Sunday, July 31, 2011

Here's to Borders 120

Once upon a time, just shortly before my life as a book blogger began, I sold books at Borders. If it had paid maybe even $4 more an hour, I'd be about to lose my job, too. Instead, I sat in the Boston bedroom that I was subletting for $500 a month and thought, "there's no way I can make it through the winter on this paycheck." So, I quit the best job I've yet to have and beat a path home to Pennsylvania to work as a soulless healthcare underling, but that's another story.

Borders 120 is the really big one with the perpetually malfunctioning up escalator at Downtown Crossing in Boston. The first time I saw it, I was on my way to a temp agency for my initial interview trying to find someplace to make a few bucks so I could keep making rent while I looked a for a "real" job. What better way for a booklover to soothe their pre-interview jitters than by perusing the bookshelves of, perhaps, the largest bookstore she'd ever laid eyes upon?

Life went on as scheduled. I got my first temp job, but I also applied for a job at that Borders. Before long I was having an interview with a guy named Alex who, of all the many interviewers I've faced in all my job hunting, was, oddly, the most intimidating because of the total lack of rhyme or reason to his interview. I left feeling like a moron, but within days I was blowing off my next shot at a temp job because I was about to start working at a bookstore, the biggest bookstore I'd ever seen. Within a month I was selling books, brewing Seattle's Best, and enjoying a 33% employee discount with the few extra dollars I could manage to save from things like food and housing.

I'll admit that this Borders has a warm, glowy spot in my memory, which is not to say it didn't face its share of problems. For one, if you've been there and seen the up escalator working, you're one of the few and the proud. For two, the homeless population was allowed to enjoy the same sitting around sipping coffee rights as everybody else which, while humane, was also stinky and sometimes a bit druggie and you wouldn't be feeling terribly benevolent about it while reshelving the 50 magazines a lady your fellow employees had christened "Smelly Nelly" had grabbed to keep her company for a long day on the mezzanine. For three, there were those few times with the front of store smelling like sewage and the elevator smelling like....okay, it wasn't an olfactory paradise. Okay, it wasn't probably wasn't paradise-y at all, but you'd be hard pressed to get me to believe it. It just had....personality. Yeah, that's what we'll call it.

It was, however, packed with books and music and intelligent well-read people with the passion and talent to sell them, who all had the sense of humor you needed to deal with the swarms of impatient business people, non english-speaking tourists, homeless folks, and the occasional outright scumbag that downtown Boston has to offer. This was a place where, if somebody came in looking for a yellow book about world leaders someone had profiled in the paper last week, someone would be able to help you find it. A place where it was so busy most days that if somebody said "excuse me" to you on the street while you were on your way home, you turned around ready to find them a book. A place where I spent a whole day doing nothing but ringing up copies of the last Harry Potter book for everybody in the city, or so it seemed. A place where if somebody came in looking for a periodical that your brain couldn't have imagined existed even in the most twisted of fever dreams, you could call out over the walkie talkie and one of ten guys named David could take you straight to it. A place where all the early employees went to lunch at the same time and could all sit in the break room for an hour and read our own books without speaking a word or spend the whole time talking about books or music or what was going on in pop culture regardless of the different backgrounds we were coming from.

It was a place that served as a waystation for people chasing bigger futures or earning a few extra bucks after their day jobs, it was a place where marriages started, it was a place where I made the most unlikely of friends, not the least of which was the guy they skeptically put me to work with making lattes on Saturday mornings. A guy who couldn't have been less like me, but who I literally had the best times with talking over political conspiracy theories while sampling out frozen drinks that didn't even exist on the menu.

In short, it was the place where I learned that even when the people around me were nothing like me, books made us into a creepy little family. My job at Borders made me appreciate all different kinds of people, all different kinds of books. I'll miss all the Borders stores, including the one closest to my hometown which will leave a huge hole in an already bookstore-light area, but there's a special spot in my heart for the old action-packed 120 and all the wacky characters that I came to know and enjoy when I was working there. Somehow, losing 120 isn't just losing a bookstore, it's the passing of an era.

Here's to you, Borders - you were great while you lasted. You gave me six months of a surreal dream job coming true, years of great book shopping, and a lifetime of appreciation for a diverse community of people who know that if you're not reading, you're not living.


  1. Even though I never shopped at Borders much, I was really sad to see it close.

  2. Wonderful post. I think I have only been in a Borders a handful of times... none in my area. Still it is heartbreaking to see these stores close.

  3. What a nice tribute. It is sad to see more and more book store closures.

  4. This is such a lovely post! The Borders in Downtown Crossing was definitely my favorite big bookstore in town, and I'm sad to see it go. Thanks for sharing your memories!