Just this past Sunday, I worked the closing shift at a Borders that is now no longer there. It was strange to walk around the empty store. Books gone, of course, as well as all the tables, the signs, a bunch of fixtures, the café, and the customers – which made the place feel even more empty because on the last day of business, we closed at 4 o’ clock in the afternoon.
The emptiness reminded me of the end of last day of high school, senior year – lockers cleared, classrooms empty, knowing you’re never going to return, or if you do it won’t be the same. Except in the case of a closing store, it’s final. There’s not going to be a fall semester after summer break, no returning students, no freshman class.
As I meandered the desolate front-of-store, I couldn’t help place things where my memory knew they should have been. The tall “major new” table with its waterfall of latest releases; the new hardcover table with 20%-off stickers on half the titles; the BOGO (buy one get one 50% off) table stacked with paperbacks; the bestsellers, staff picks, New York Times Editors’ Picks, Children’s, YA, and various genre bays. So much prime real estate gone completely.
I thought of what I would have been doing that night. If that hadn’t been the store’s last day, I would have had pages of lists, instructions for what needed to change around the store. We’d prep as much as possible and switch out what titles we could ahead of the time-specific lay downs that happened every Monday after closing since new books are released Tuesdays (unless you’re James Patterson).
I really liked doing the change-outs. You can’t help but absorb information while switching out titles displayed all around the store and I got pretty good at guessing what book a customer was looking for when they didn’t know the title. If someone created a game show called Name That Book, I’d feel pretty good about my chances if I were a contestant.
During my last look around the store, it was seeing the children’s section barren that made me saddest. The children’s section that I hated because it was always in completely and utter disarray at the end of the night. Always. The children’s section that I hated because no matter how well I straightened it up through the day or the night before, it always looked so bad that the end of the night that I wondered if parents just watched their kids pull every book from the shelf and throw them to the floor, or if they actively participated. The children’s section I hated because that was where teenagers always seemed to migrate to make out (or look at sex books and adult magazines) and I didn’t want to have to be the one to come through with a hose.
The children’s section I loved because kids books are just a whole bushel of pure awesome. The children’s section that I loved because so often a parent would be more than happy to buy their kid a stack of books even if they only rarely bought a single book for themselves. The children’s section that I loved because parents would bring their young reluctant readers there and ask the staff for a book that makes reading exciting. The children’s section where the love of reading is cultivated more actively than probably any other section of the store.
The children’s section that I loved because it was as a child that I fell in love with books, and am a writer today. The children’s section where I could come across one of my favorite childhood books or authors and be filled with the same feeling from my childhood when I’d read late into the night because I couldn’t put a good book down (and okay, I do still that now, but it was especially magical when I was a kid). The children's section where I could try to pass that feeling on to a kid who might be a reluctant reader now but just might become a lifetime lover of books, if I could only help him find a book to ignite the spark that was ignited in me.
I wish there was still a children's section for me to straighten up.