Under the "STORE CLOSING" sign rested a stack of books with hemorrhage-red covers bearing the title "Too Big to Fail."
The irony had to force a smile.
When Borders Book Shop opened in my hometown in 1992, it ushered in an era of oxymoron retail -- the cozy superstore. It offered 100,000 titles, many at discount prices, and featured comfy earth-toned couches and chairs along with a then cutting-edge treat -- a coffee bar. They might have called their java Seattle’s Best but usually it tasted more like something that had passed through Seattle Slew.
Borders enraged area owners of small, independent bookstores. Volume dealing of volumes! How gauche! A few of these little shops closed quickly without much fanfare, including the tiny Barrett Bookstore in that same shopping plaza. I had treaded Barrett’s industrial-white tile floors many times in those previous years, searching mostly for my school-required literary classics as well as the necessary CliffsNotes that explained why, for example, Moby Dick should enrapture rather than task and heap me. (Damn you, Kirrrrrrk – I mean, MelVILLLLLE!)
Ahab may not have gotten his revenge, but surviving independents did.
Earlier this year Borders' parent filed for bankruptcy, done in by even bigger retailers like Target and Amazon.com. However, I think even those early chain-store foes would agree any bookstore going under, regardless of ownership, is not a time for gloating. Forget the intellectual aspect of it; people have special bonds with bookstores and, (uses cranky old-timer voice) back in my day, those melodious places where we bought our Victrola 78s. These were shelters where you went in your times of joy or need or loneliness to see your old friends and meet new ones who would always accept you into their magical world.
However, I had other reasons to feel wistful about this past weekend's closing. Yes, one is the fear of yet another CVS/pharmacy or -- worse -- bank moving into Borders' shell. Most have to do with my growing up, to some degree, within those brick walls.
For 25 years prior to it being Borders, for my entire lifetime at that point, this place had been a supermarket, the locally owned and operated GranCentral. Not only was it the market my mother hauled me to nearly every week for groceries as a kid, but it was also the one where I lost my innocence to the working world.
For nine months following my 16th birthday, I donned a paper-thin GranCentral green jacket and served.
I combed the parking lot in rain, cold and heat gathering wire-framed carts and cursing the lazy shoppers who abandoned them.
I sorted and stacked sticky piles of returned bottles in the basement, building a fort from the filled cartons where I would eat my lunch and read the latest copies of People or US Weekly.
One time, I spent three hours on a Sunday restocking the freezer aisles without wearing gloves. I recall that day whenever my fingertips go numb, as they sometimes do, when the mercury just barely dips below 50. Consequently, from November to April, My Love often refers to me as "Mitten Boy."
At GranCentral, I learned about unions from the cut they took from my meager check. I also learned about them from my fellow teen wage slave, Pasqual, an impossibly scrawny and heavily accented Frenchman who would skulk and complain until he got his mandated break so he could go outside for a smoke.
I discovered profit margins when I found a pricing sheet that showed how much those rolls we baked in the deli really cost.
I also figured out how to use a box cutter to make end-cap displays without slicing into the product or my fingers. Well, most of the time.
But my best memory (outside of my one date with this totally fine cashier who dumped me with barely the pleasure of gliding over her rolling hills) is of the full-time guys who worked in the deli department. They tended to mismark the prices on our sandwiches so it didn’t cut too much into our meager pockets. On some Sundays after the freshly clipped coupon crowd thinned, they’d cook an extra rotisserie chicken or errantly make an extra cheese steak for whoever had the shift.
For years afterward, I’d run into some of the deli guys around town or while they were working at their second jobs. There was Red, who was also a typewriter repairman; Mark, an organist at a local church; and Mike the Greek who, well, was Greek. They always remembered who I was just like they always remembered their regular customers' orders.
After waiting in line for several minutes to make my final purchases from the local Borders, I helped the cashier peel off the dozen or so price stickers from my new books and then pack them into plastic bags. I asked about her plans.
"This is it for me," she said. "And I'm doing my book shopping online from now on."
On my way out, I took solace in the fact I didn't need a shopping cart to get all these tomes back to the minivan. The thought of some poor kid slogging through the parking lot because of my laziness, to this day, still gives me pause.
* * *
THING 1 UPDATE: Rash improvement
The first IV infusions of steroids went well over the weekend. Her rash is already looking less angry, as My Love says. This weekend will be two more doses of IV steroids plus a 6-hour-long infusion of IVIG. Oy.
Thoughts and prayers welcome as are your donations to Cure JM to help all kids with juvenile myositis diseases.
Cheers … U