Two bookstores closed this week. The one the newspaper business sections noted was Borders, which isn’t closing but it did go bankrupt, and a number of its locations are closing, including the two closest to A.C.T. The Borders in Union Square has been partnering with A.C.T. this season, holding discussion groups and devoting an endcap to books related to our productions, and on these shelves were Words on Plays, which my department creates. So, for a brief five months, I could say that my work was on sale at Borders. No small accomplishment for a writer. This loss, of course, is nothing when compared to the loss many Borders employees are suffering this week. Borders in Union Square is closing their doors, as is the Borders a few blocks away in the mall—and 9 others of the 19 in the Bay Area.
I have mixed feelings. I like Borders. Do I like it as much as Half Price Books or any of the independently owned bookstores in the Bay Area (or anywhere)? No. Of course not. But they usually had books the others did not, which is the strength of a corporate behemoth. Yet, I have never really forgiven it for shutting down Paul’s Books in the St. Louis Loop, the bookstore I grew up in and frequented until it couldn’t keep up with the competition. I can still remember the odd layout that weaved through the ground floor of a building from the westside entrance to the northside entrance. There’s a restaurant/bar there now, with a small music venue where the children’s books used to be. Granted, Paul’s was not just competing with Borders; it had Barnes and Nobel and Library Ltd. to contend with. And, granted, there are other independent bookstores in St. Louis that have survived—but still, there is some sense of poetic justice that Goliath has finally fallen, years after David (or Paul).
And yet, it’s sad to have any refuge for the printed word falter in this digital age (whines the blogger). And many of Borders’s employees are lovers of the written word, and now they’re without jobs that put them in close proximity to what they loved—and will go find jobs that distance them from what they love, if they can find jobs at all. For them I mourn.
The second closing is unequivocally devastating. Comic Relief—my local comic book store—closed on Valentine’s Day, a cruel bizarro love letter to all us readers of modern mythos in the Berkley area. Not realizing the significance, Rachel and I saw them lock up the other day as we walked home from the train. They have two store cats they lock in at night. “Do you think they’re sad,” Rachel asked. “No, absolutely not. Who could be sad to spend the night in a comic book store. They’re with people all day and probably love having the run of the place.” (I have always secretly hoped I would accidentally be locked in a museum or library after hours). But I bet those cats are sad now*, though probably not as sad as the people who can comprehend how much it totally sucks not to know where they’ll get their next issue of their favorite monthly. And, of course, the employees.
It is a sad week for word-nerds, especially superhero-oriented ones.
*For those more worried about cats than people (you know who you are), employee Jim Friel says “The two store cats, Ash and Ember, have been acquired by Jack Rems, founder and owner of Dark Carnival Books, an excellent science fiction and mystery bookstore which has operated in Berkeley for 35 years.” So maybe it won’t be such a hard transition.