Borders Bookstore Through Time

Borders Bookstore was founded in 1971 by Tom and Louis Borders while they were studying at the University of Michigan. They opened up a used bookstore in an 800 square-foot storefront in downtown Ann Arbor. It started out as a small bookshop; a place for the students of the university and the smaller community colleges to go buy whatever they wanted or needed cheaply. But it quickly became a place for all of Ann Arbor to hang out. The small store did so well they the Borders brothers decided to move their small used bookstore into a larger storefront on State Street– a 10,000 square foot space that could hold 10,000 books. Below is a Google “Street View” of the M Den which is the storefront that housed Borders Bookstore.

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In the 1980’s Louis and Tom Borders decided to open up more bookstores under the same name. By the early 1990’s Borders started adding movies and music to the inventories of many of their stores. This peaked the interest of the Kmart franchise and Borders sold their chain to them in 1992. A couple years later, in  1994, the Borders on State Street of Ann Arbor, Michigan moved once more to a bigger storefront on East Liberty Street. This storefront was a very large two-floor department store with a 40,000 square foot floor-space. By 1998 Borders Bookstore had an up-and-running website where people could shop in the comfort of their own home and six years later, Borders would make a deal with the Starbucks corporation to sell Seattle’s Best Coffee at their in-store cafés.

In 2009 Borders tried to do whatever they could to cut back on their spending during the financial crisis to avoid bankruptcy. Unfortunately, their efforts weren’t very successful. They tried to launch the Kobo e-reader and e-books to help gain some money back, but by February of 2011 they had to file for bankruptcy. In July of 2011, Borders had their liquidation sales at almost if-not-all of their stores.

When Borders closed down, the people of Ann Arbor, especially the business owners near the Borders were upset. It has been reported that foot-traffic in the area has decreased significantly since its closure. Borders seemed to function as a hub for the town to revolve around. “Thousands more people were on our sidewalks when Borders was open,” she said. “It also brought a greater diversity of foot traffic: young and old, campus related and not, townies and visitors” (Susan Pollay via Lizzy Alfs). People have also said that when Borders closed it felt like losing a family member. This bookstore was not just a bookstore.

In Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morely, the bookseller, a man by the name of Roger, loved books. But even more so he loved living among his books. Parnassus, a horse and buggie stocked full of books and bookshelves, served as a traveling bookstore. Driving the Parnassus was one of the things Roger had loved more than anything and when he sold it, he still couldn’t leave the bookselling life behind him. He showed the woman who purchased Parnassus how to sell books and went with her instead of going to Brooklyn like he originally planned. Even when he said he was getting on a train to go to Brooklyn, he never left Parnassus. Bookselling for him was not just about the money, it was about spreading literature and bringing the joy of reading into peoples’ lives. Borders did this, too.

Even though Borders sold things that weren’t just books, it was a place for people to buy things that make them happy. Movies, music, and books all provide entertainment, but  by selling entertainment they were selling happiness to many. Borders, despite being a big chain, did their best to make it a place for people to enjoy themselves and the company of others. They held book-signings, readings, concerts, and other events that made Borders more of a place to live than a place to consume. People had and still have a hard time letting go of Borders because of an emotional attachment. The way Roger felt about Parnassus is the way people feel about Borders- it may not be there anymore but there’s something about it they just can’t let go of.

In Reluctant Capitalists by Laura J. Miller, she states “Independent booksellers […] claim that the chains’ standardized look is of a piece with their […] homogenous selection. And, it is charged, the impersonal, bland experience of shopping at a chain is alienating for customers and demeaning for books” (88). But I think for the people of Ann Arbor this is incredibly untrue. People loved the Borders Bookstore. There were people who went there every day during their lunch break (youtube video from earlier). The citizens of Ann Arbor did not see this Borders store as a part of a chain– it was their bookstore. Borders had been a part of Ann Arbor for 40 years and the people who lived there (college students or otherwise) grew attached to it (Lizzy Alfs). This wasn’t a place where people felt unwelcome– in fact it was the opposite. Those who spent their time in this Borders store probably felt that this was a secondary home for them. Borders was a part of Ann Arbor just as a small independent bookstore would be part of its town.


Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morely

Reluctant Capitalists by Laura J. Miller


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