Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Farewell, Borders

On my last day in New York today, I made a nostalgic final visit to the Borders Bookstore in the Time-Warner Building at Columbus Circle. I never got a chance to do that at the big Barnes & Noble on Broadway and West 66th Street that closed back in January. At least Barnes & Noble is still in business. The store on Broadway and West 82nd Street that I used to frequent in the 1990s (before the 66th Street store was opened) is still open - for now at least. But Borders is closing all its stores nationwide - all 399 of them. Apparently, the Borders company was not able to find a buyer for the bankrupt business. And so it's over.

There is certainly a lot to be said for bookstores in general and to lament the terrible loss their seemingly inexorable demise portends - not just for reading, but for the larger life of the communities their presence particularly nourished. Like the smaller, independent bookstores of my younger years (that the chain stores undoubtedly helped put out of business), bookstores are a true treasure for a local community; and they certainly were a personal oasis for me over the years. I've long loved browsing in bookstores' stacks, which the larger chain stores especially facilitated by providing places to sit and buy coffee, etc. They also hosted community events and the kinds of book presentations I often watch on CSPAN on weekends.

I suppose some will hail all this in the name of progress. And, in the larger scheme of things, of all the social and communal resources modern life has progressively deprived us of, this is hardly the most tragic component of the world we have lost. Even so, every loss is a loss, and human life and human community are immeasurably impoverished by the accumulation of such losses.

For now, I mourn the fact that the next time I visit my old home here in midtown Manhattan, not only Barnes & Noble but Borders too will be gone, inevitably to be replaced by something far less enriching for me and for those who live, work, or visit the upper West Side.

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