Monday, July 18, 2011

I'll Just Say Fare-Thee-Well

I started working for Borders on March 2, 1994. It was at the beginning of the sort (that's what Borders called the new store opening process) for the store in Mesa, Arizona. Becoming a bookseller was a dream come true; it was the best and coolest job I had ever had or ever would have. On that first day I met fifty new people, and do you know how we got to know each other? We went around the room and told what we were reading.

How cool is that?

I came to Borders at the beginning of the go-go expansion years, when the company was opening twenty-five, then fifty stores a year. The job I coveted from day one was the job of store trainer, whose job included training new store staff and traveling around the country helping to open new stores. The first store I opened as a visiting trainer was the store in Torrance, California, which opened in September of 1994. At that time Elizabeth Sims was the Regional Manager (one of the first the young company had had), and she made it a point always to spend a little time with the visiting trainers on sorts talking about what they were reading and share the books currently in her life. Elizabeth left Borders to become a writer.

I know that many people had issues with Borders. The stores were too big and there were too many of them and they drove small independent booksellers out of business. All valid points. But a store as big as Borders at its peak had well over 100,000 book titles. 100,000! Maybe there were too many stores, but in most communities in which they were located Borders stores were vital, happening places. I still remember the first Saturday night I worked at the store in Mesa. At 9 p.m. the place was packed. There was a jazz band playing, and people were sprawled all over the aisles reading books and talking about books and life. The people who worked in the stores--at least, the people who worked in the dozen or more stores in which I spent significant chunks of time--were smart, interesting, and well-read.

Well, those times are hell and gone. But it's still poignant to be on the verge of closing down one of the first Borders I opened. And it's painful to know that the culture of which we were all so proud back in the nineties, and which, I think, many of us harbored secret hope might someday be coaxed back to life, will soon be gone forever. I hope that those who feel the need to gloat about how long this has been coming and how badly Borders has been managed will think a moment before they speak or write. I hope they'll think about how beautiful our stores were. I hope they'll remember how happy we were to make recommendations, and how on target many of those recommendations ended up being. I hope they'll remember the midnight Harry Potter parties, and how many kids were initiated into lives of reading because of our stores. 

I know I will. 


Kathy said...

Nice post. So sorry to see the Borders stores go. They always had the most helpful staff (no doubt from the excellent training!)
Good luck to you!

Rebecca said...

Well said. It is sad to see Borders go.

Elizabeth Sims said...

Rebecca, it's beyond belief what has happened to that company, in spite of the best efforts of so many of us. I started as a floor clerk in 1987, when there were only 2 stores and Tom and Louis Borders knew who I was. Lots of good memories. Best wishes to you.

Amber Lessa said...

You hired me in April of 2000, I can't express my gratitude fully on how much that changed my life (it may be that I don't even know). A large number of my dearest memories and closest friends have come from Borders. A great deal of my personal and professional triumphs came from the experiences and lessons learned there, and from you directly.
I mourn the loss of the company but cherish the memories of wonderful people and wonderful books I had the pleasure to work with for the later decade. Thank you for this wonderful post and for taking a chance on the 20 year old girl from the Gamekeeper and making her part of your team.

EnriqueFreeque said...

I remember those 100,000 titles in stock days well, and will greatly miss being able to visit what was always such a refuge for me over the years.

Marie said...

Beautiful post. I can't speak for all bloggers, but when I spoke of the mismanagement it was to dispel a little the idea that Borders' closing was strictly the fault of ebooks, which is something that seems to be a common misconception. I loved Borders and shopped there for years; it was the only big bookstore in Boston and a crucial part of the Boston book landscape. I knew that any Borders I went to anywhere would be great. It will be sorely, sorely missed.