Monday, January 10, 2011

This Used to Be My Playground: Elegy for a Borders

I'm a bad, bad hipster.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about the local.  I live in a neighborhood that yes, is more gentrified than it was ten years ago, but still boasts a bevy of indie coffee bars, clothing stores, restaurants, brunch-y type places, you name it.  It's one of the reasons I pay more rent than I should--I love being surrounded by the ingenuity of my fellow (wo)man.

But today, I cry for a corporate behemoth on Chicago's Mag Mile.

You see, last weekend Borders on Michigan Avenue closed its doors forever. 

And I, the alterna-girl, am heartbroken.

I have a special affinity for Borders, for many reasons.  I love, love, love to read and those SOB's have everything.  I get killer coupons in my email and I don't even have to print them out: just show them on my smartphone and we're copasetic.  Their Seattle's Best coffee kicks ass and their spinach omelet sandwiches are like delicious, eggy crack.

More importantly, however, Borders is my mothership, my point of return at the various stages of my life.

After I lost my virginity and the lucky man had to go to work, I went to Borders, plopped in an armchair, and contemplated how I felt: at once forever changed and exactly the same.  In law school, I went to the local Borders so often the staff knew my name (and I even taught some of them at the university).  When I was a temp in downtown Chicago, I'd head to the State Street location on my lunch break and just browse around, smelling that irreplaceable new-book aroma.  (I've never been an eating-at-your-desk type because I can just feel my ass getting wider with every bite.)

That same year, I even worked at my neighborhood Borders over the Christmas season, dealing with preppy college students, cranky oldsters, and indie rockers--and that was just the staff.  I remember riding the elevator with some of my coworkers after closing late one night.  Someone cracked a snarky joke and I knew that this was my crowd, my neighborhood, where I fit in best.  I knew right then I'd made the right decision to move back to Chicago.

(Not to mention I had a really gorgeous coworker.  Yes, he could be a real douche, but he was also 6'5" and would shelve the books little 5'4" me couldn't reach.  In return, I would work on the bottom shelves for him, as it hurt his knees to squat.  Plus, we would rock paper scissors for who got to work the register.  It's the little things.)

And the Michigan Avenue Borders, well, it was a gateway to all of the above.

I first moved to the city as a college freshman, wide-eyed and innocent as the cows in the farm town from whence I came.  I couldn't believe my luck when I happened upon the Borders--three floors devoted to books!  Imagine that.  My college's downtown campus was just down the street, and for four years I took advantage of the free shuttle service.  Sometimes I'd take homework, but more often I'd grab a stack of books and read to my naive little heart's content.

This past year, I experienced a serious bout of sadness and stress.  I got in the habit of taking long walks to clear my head, and more often than not I'd find myself at the same Borders, choosing some titles and feeling more content for just a little while.  It was on one of these nights a couple months ago, that I heard a cafe employee break the bad news: soon, the store would be no more.

I'm not a huge fan of downtown, especially on weekends.  I've also had a friend work at this Borders, and she's had to deal with more annoying asshole tourists than anyone should have to see in a lifetime.  I can never understand how so many people think Chicago is the Mag Mile and that's it.  It's so much more.

But I'll always be grateful to this Borders.  In some ways, it's watched me grow up, from a college-age pixie to an ambitious temp-by-day to a semi-serious adult still figuring my shit out.  I'll miss the pretty view of the Old Water Tower, the smell of chocolate from the Hershey store, the sounds of hustle and bustle mixed with quiet contemplation.

Downtown will remain, of course, but it'll never be the same to me.



  1. I remember being in awe of the Michigan Avenue the first time I visited it. My hometown didn't even have a bookstore, so going to a bookstore with three floors was definitely thrilling. I love bookstores like Borders because they let you browse for as long as you want. It is sad that so many bookstores are struggling because of the electronic books. I still prefer paper books, even though it's probably environmentaly incorrect of me to say that.

  2. Aw, that makes me sad. When I lived in Chicago, I worked just off of State Street, and used to go to that Borders a couple of times a week.
    Hope that one is still there...

  3. I know I should be so into indies, but I love Borders and Barnes & Noble. I'm a suburbanite, so it's not like I can just hit the local indie. My Borders at the White Flint Mall is one of the East Coast's biggest, and they have a wonderful storytime lady for my kid.