In The Suburbs / Turning the page
Published 1:00 pm, Thursday, March 31, 2011
Walking through Borders for probably one of our last visits was bittersweet. The store will be closing next month, and we decided to check out the initial sale bargains last Saturday around 6 p.m.
I have never seen the store so empty. Granted, it was early evening, but we've been in the store other early evenings and found it bustling with activity. The silence was deafening.
My wife was after a few more quilting bargains she didn't really need and was feeling energized enough, now that her cast is off from a recent ankle break and surgery, to make the trip. With her wheelchair, we had to use the elevator and when we arrived on the second floor, it was a little more crowded, especially with families looking for children's books.
I parked the chair next to the craft shelves and started pulling 20-percent bargain books off the shelves. A lot of the books had been picked over, but we found a great selection and my wife was happy we'd made the trip.
In the background we could hear moms and dads, praising youngsters for being such great readers and encouraging them to keep up the great work and keep on reading. Some kids were holding several books. At the prices for children's books, this was a bargain basement.
I decided to do some wandering myself and started browsing through the business and writing books. I've tried to be really careful about buying books I won't read. I call them literary souvenirs. At these prices I couldn't go wrong, but I wanted to be sure our total wasn't ridiculous.
After picking through 15 writing books, I found a great one and figured that I needed some real motivation.
This book was an easy read at a discounted price of about $10.
Meanwhile, my wife had piled about five books onto her lap and was ready to roll. "I've done enough damage," she said. "And I don't even need another quilt book. But it's for a good cause -- the quiet demise of Borders. I'll miss this place. I loved getting lost up here or in the magazine section.
We took the elevator to the main floor and headed straight for the magazines, which were already 40 percent off. Once again, I parked her in front of crafts, made sure she could reach the various publications and walked over to business and travel. I grabbed a copy of "The Writer" and "Men's Health," two of my favorites, to buy and then sat down in front of the stores back window to browse through fluff like "People," "Us" and "Travel and Leisure."
My wife was leafing through quilting and sewing magazines -- just what we needed with more than 150 at the house. Fortunately, she already had the two magazines she'd pulled out, and, aside from a couple of beading publications, the section was a bust for my wife. "I've had enough," she said. "Let's ride off into the sunset with our new stash."
"Works for me," I said.
When we reached the front of the store, I understood why the place was so empty. The entire gathering area and snack bar were closed and dark, with tables and chairs piled neatly in a corner. And I felt that emptiness that one feels when a loved one or old friend is gone forever.
As we passed the information/order desk, an employee called for a manager. "Someone wants to order a book," she said. "What shall I tell them? "
"No," came the answer, curtly. "We aren't ordering any more books!
And my wife was out of luck also because she'd brought her Kindle-like reading tablet in for some service, and no one could fix it. The closest stores were in Meriden and Farmington.
At the check-out counter, which had always been crowded but was eerily quiet, the sales associate was explaining to another customer that this Border's hadn't been slated to close, but the chain had reached an impasse with the landlord (Borders had wanted an 80-percent rent reduction, the landlord has said) and there was no choice. Borders said it would try to find jobs for employees in other stores, but most of the chain's shops in the area are closing, too.
As I stood at the counter, while my wife paid for our new stash, I glanced around the store. I waxed nostalgic, closed my eyes and visualized the many coffees I'd shared with friends and colleagues in the snack area. I remembered afternoons and evenings when there were no tables and I had to wait 20 minutes or so.
Then I glanced at the shelves, still filled with books. Surely Borders wouldn't be able to sell all of these books, and 20 percent was a bargain but not much of a bargain. There would be much inventory to package and prepare for shipping to keep a skeleton crew of employees busy.
I will miss this important downtown Fairfield anchor. It was a wonderful gathering spot for all ages.
Border's kept the lights on downtown during the week and on weekends and brought our residents and neighbors from other communities into the downtown area to meet and mingle with friends. If we wanted to see a late movie on a Saturday, we always stopped at Borders for a quick snack and to browse.
Moms and dads brought their kids for hours of reading and a place to mingle with other parents. Music buffs donned earphones and played CD's and DVDs to their hearts' content. And magazine fans spent a little or a lot of time in the sitting area at the back of the store.
I have no idea what will replace this big downtown box. At first I thought Barnes & Noble would open a Fairfield store. Or perhaps the store will be carved into a group of smaller, boutique stores. I do know that we need a gathering spot downtown, especially with summer coming. For now, count this writer as lonely and unhappy in downtown Fairfield.
Steven Gaynes In The Suburbs columns appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.