This post isn’t going to have anything to do with food. I feel like I should say so up front. I know this is my first post in quite a while, so I’ll throw in a little personal (i.e. mostly food-related) update at the end. The truth is, I’ve struggled with inspiration lately. I’ve been cooking as much as ever, but just haven’t been doing much worth writing & posting about. So leave it to something like a beloved bookstore closing to get me back at it.
I know that Borders is not a local, indie, or even small bookstore. Even the ones they’ve decided to close as they begin bankruptcy proceedings aren’t exactly home-y. The one in my hometown is, of course, no exception. But it was here before Barnes & Noble came to town, and while it did drive out one or two smaller home-grown shops, the truth (however sad) is that this was never a welcoming place for independent, chic bookstores, and so I never felt that Borders was doing the city’s cultural landscape much harm in drawing business to its big-box doors.
My love for this particular Borders store, as one might expect, comes from having spent so much time in it – in this case, as an employee. For a nerdy, bookish, music-snob type like me, it was the perfect gig.
I walked in for an interview for a job in the store’s café sometime in 2000. I met the assistant manager and followed her around as she shelved books, then she finally turned down one aisle (I wish I remember which section) where she found two stepstools and invited me to have a seat. A few minutes later, I had the job.
Working in the café, I quickly learned, was the lowest rung of the Borders ladder. I had enough food prep experience to get by, and quickly gained a few essential barista skills. I got to know the regulars, and made friends with my fellow lowly café employees. A guy named Tim was hired around the same time as I was, and we became good friends. In a few months we were both being asked to spend a couple of shifts a week in the rest of the store. Tim, I think, had started out with the same aspiration as I had – to work in the ultracool music section. And before long, we got to.
Naturally, people come and go in retail jobs. But there were a few faithful Borders folks who will always stand out in my mind. There’s Tim, of course. And Will was the music section manager who gave me my job back after I came back from England, later in 2001. There was Larry, the unofficial guardian of the music section. Dare looked after everyone like a mom (she and I now teach together, some 10 years later, and she’s just as wonderfully silly and smart as ever). Several people later went on to the hipper, local used bookstore. We had great managers, terrible managers, and one who was, tragically, gone too soon.
We did many Harry Potter midnight release parties, open mic nights in the café, and local author readings. We caught shoplifters, cleaned up their messes in corners and in bathrooms, and even chased a few on foot out of the store. We survived Christmas after Christmas, but then Christmases got less and less busy.. And, eventually, most of us moved on to other jobs, but kept drifting in from time to time to say hello. I think I probably wasn’t the only one who noticed the place looking thinner, emptier, and sadder on each visit.
My Borders started its final, everything-must-go sale this weekend. As I pulled into the parking lot I was immediately a little angry at how full the parking lot was. Where the hell were all these people six months ago? A year ago? I walked in and saw the clearance signs everywhere and people picking through all the shelves. The place looked like it could’ve made it, with all those people and with almost all the shelves still looking pretty full. But I knew it wasn’t true. I knew it was as good as gone. I walked around, bought a few heavily-discounted magazines, and left with my memories.
FOOTNOTE: My old Borders coworker and friend, Tim LaFollette, now suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s a devastating disease with no cure and no comfort. Tim’s friends have formed an organization that strives to provide for his care and, most importantly to Tim, to raise awareness about ALS. Please check out the Often Awesome Army and consider doing what you can to help fight ALS, and get to know Tim.
As for what’s been going on in the Tiny Kitchen lately, I’ve been cooking a lot, really just re-working and perfecting a lot of old favorites, which I thought would just be tedious to read, so I did kind of drop off the blogosphere for a bit. I’m also super busy at work right now (adding track coach to my already-long hours as a teacher), but if anything I should be spending more time on the blog just to maintain sanity.