Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Salute to Borders Books and Music

I have loved to read ever since forever. I worked in bookstores for 20 years -- over 12 of them at two different Borders in N.E. Ohio. First I worked at the Bookhound, a mystery bookstore, owned by my sister, Barbara Hiney, and after a brief stint at an advertising agency, returned to being a bookseller at Pickwick Books in Fairlawn. Unfortunately, Borders came to town, just a mile or so away, and that was soon the end of Pickwick. I am a fan of independent stores, and was really sad to witness the demise of Pickwick Books, but I also have to admit that being a booklover, I am thrilled when there are thousands of books in one huge place.

For a long time, Borders was very community oriented, with lots of activities in the store to appeal to children and adults. We had a program coordinator to keep things hopping. Local authors could be assured of signings, and placement of their books on our shelves. Borders was a second home to me, with family, friends, and people I hadn't seen for a long time popping up here and there to make my shifts more fun and interesting. My fellow employees were well-versed in books and music and had many areas of expertise that made them reliable sources of information and recommendations.

I just realized that this is a little like a fairy tale because Borders was the big bad wolf who came to town and killed Pickwick, and then Barnes and Noble came to town about 1/2 mile away and took about 30% of Borders' business right away! Then Borders opened a store in the neighboring community of Medina, and that took even more business away! Finally, Borders #63 had to let go all of their part-time employees -- and that meant I lost a job that meant the world to me. I had started working in the mental health field by then and traveling some, but I was still trying to hang in there with Borders. I landed a job with Borders in N. Canton for over 2 years before my other jobs became too time consuming.

Let me tell you what I loved about Borders. When I opened the door to Borders at the beginning of each shift, I never knew what to expect -- I knew I would get to have interesting conversations with not only the customers, but with my fellow employees. And I loved the enormous quantity of books, and knowing what was new, and being able to talk to people about books. We also had a large music department that kept me on my toes, musically speaking.

One day a man came in and was looking for a book of poetry. When he and his wife were courting, they used to go down by a river, and he would read to her from this book. She had just passed away, and was in the funeral home next door to Borders, and he wanted to put that book in her casket! We didn't have it and I was panic stricken. I called every book store in town, even the used ones, but I couldn't find it. Finally, I gave him a print-out of the information, which he carefully folded up and put in his pocket. He told me that he had gone on to make a lot of money, but when he proposed to her he could only afford to give her an engagement ring that he bought at the dime store. Later he bought her a magnificent diamond ring. In her later days, she would only wear the dime store ring.

There was one woman who came in once a week and bought a stack of books. She had taken a speed reading course, and it was always fun to see if I could come up with new ideas for her each week. One morning, one of our regular customers showed up with warm Krispy Kreme glazed donuts for the opening crew!

Another time, a volunteer from hospice came in and asked for some music that people could listen to as they passed. She said that one woman's husband used to be a violinist, and that this volunteer had played violin music for her as she was in her final days.

Not every day had incredible stories like that, but I never knew which one would. I did story hour there for many years, and loved to look out into the sea of children as I read wonderful, fun stories to them. Sometimes I dressed up as Winnie the Pooh, or Cat in the Hat or a Berenstain Bear -- the kids really believed I was those characters.

We used to have an art wall where local artists could have a chance to show their creations -- sometimes for the first time ever. I facilitated THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron a lot of times, some writing groups, and other events there. The cafe was a great place for people to get together, or have some time by themselves. I know one man who did most of his studying for nursing school there and another who conducted a lot of his real estate business from the cafe.

I was so grateful to have the chance to work at Borders in N. Canton. It was a different environment because it was not in my neighborhood any more. My co-workers were terrific. One manager was a retired school teacher who studies Abraham Lincoln among other things. Another went on to teach art.

One time I was at the Philadelphia Airport, with an unexpectedly long layover, and there was a Borders store there to save the day -- just one book, a rocker, and I was a happily detained traveller. I was recently at the airport again, and I hoped to go to that Borders one more time (closing dates for all Borders are in September), but I was so sad to see the black curtain, with the Borders sign lit up in the background. It just seemed symbolic to me of the extreme sadness of the whole closing.

There are Borders employees who are hanging in to the very end to help get their stores closed up. They have been through a lot. Some of them were full-time once, but got their hours cut and lost their benefits. Many of my friends who worked at Borders never could even afford to have cars. A lot of Borders employees work there because they love books, music, and people. I send them best wishes and much gratitude as they look for new jobs and opportunities.

Goodbye, Borders Books and Music -- thanks for the memories.


  1. Wonderful tribute. I knew you best during your lovely days at Borders in Fairlawn. There is no way digital downloads of books and music can mirror the community feeling of the local it large or small.

    We are witnessing a vastly changing world, Carol. I am reminded that we met because of the internet and our love of a book. Little did we know how far this would take us. Glad people like you are walking the planet. Love always....Helen

  2. What a wonderfully touching tribute to Borders. I, too, am one of those people who just loved to go to Borders, get a latte, a pile of books/magazines and just read. Borders was one of my favorite Artist's Way dates with myself. It was always a treat. I was devastated when I heard they were closing. I went up to Borders N. Canton last week. I was so sad walking through the store that I knew I didn't want to come back again and watch that slow death. So sad because it makes us realize how much the internet has changed the world. Thank you, Carol for the lovely stories.

  3. This was part of our dinner conversation last night. We are ALL upset by Borders closing. Friends in Canton tell me that there is NO BOOKSTORE in the entire city now. I am heartsick that we can't breeze into Borders and just browse the books anymore. I suppose I will have to learn to go to the other one down the street.................