Borders : Unpacking the People and Places of the Present

The Ann Arbor Borders

The Ann Arbor Borders, 2005.

Growing up there were only two things that could get me to go shopping at the local mall. The promise of Auntie Anne’s pretzels and the bookstore. In my formative years the bookstore I called home was B. Dalton’s, but by the late 1990s my precious place was closed just like many of the chain’s stores throughout the nation. I was a rather distraught five year old for quite a few weeks, but by the time signs were being posted regarding the new American Eagle which would be taking over the space vacated by B. Dalton’s I had already found a new home on the other side of the mall. This was when I began my love affair with Borders. Especially throughout junior high, I would plan trips with one of my friends who lived within walking distance of the mall where we would do nothing but wander Borders, eventually pick up a book that caught our eyes, and settle in for the next three hours. No one ever questioned us as we lounged in corners or on chairs, pausing only long enough to walk down to the food court for a nutritious dinner of Taco Bell before returning to read a few more chapters. We rarely bought books and as long as I left my copy on the back of the shelf my bookmark was almost always were I had put it the previous excursion.


The Slurping Turtle Sign in the window of the old Borders building.

While I have never personally wandered the 44,000-square-foot Border’s flagship in Ann Arbor, Michigan I can easily picture the endless lines of shelving and the variety of shoppers floating around me in their own searches. The space at 612 East Liberty Street is still empty, two years to the day since the Borders closed its doors for good, much to the heart-ache of Ann Arbor residents who have been visiting the store since it first opened in 1971. Through the eyes of Google Maps a casual observer could get caught up in the classic black awnings with the company’s name still emblazoned upon them and imagine the store still populated with thousands of bound universes. In reality the fantasy would be broken by the covered windows and the white signs that have been posted in the windows since early July announcing a new restaurant, Slurping Turtle, coming soon to 5,296 square-feet of the building. The Slurping Turtle is one of five restaurants that are scheduled to be placed within the building along with two offices according to the redesign plan done by Hobbs + Black Architects.

The Hobbs + Black rendering showing the plans for the remodeling of the old Borders Building.

The Hobbs + Black rendering showing the plans for the remodeling of the old Borders Building.

Although seeing a landmark such as Borders fall, one must also come to terms with the fact that as time passes, societies are shifting and the store and buildings which surround these societies

The interior of Yagihashi's Slurping Turtle in Chicago.

The interior of Yagihashi’s Slurping Turtle in Chicago.

must change with it. Slurping Turtle is owned by Takashi Yagihashi, previously a chef for eight years in Farmington Hills a little over half an hour away from Ann Arbor. This will be his second restaurant, the first Slurping Turtle located in Chicago,Illinois. Yagihashi has been interested in bringing his restaurant to Ann Arbor for more than eight months. This isn’t very surprising news when you consider the fact that Slurping Turtle will be joining over 70 other various Asian eateries; including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Indian and other nationalities. While only 1% of the 9,883,640 Michigan residents are of Asian decent, Ann Arbor’s population of 113,934 boasts a comparatively surprising 11.7%.

Of course, Ann Arbor is made up of more than just its permanent residents. The town is home to the University of Michigan which increases the town population by almost 43,500 during the school year with both graduate and undergraduate students. As with most college towns, the effect of U-M students is apparent in the stores and resources available, most often through a heavier concentration of bookstores, art stores and galleries, and coffee shops.

The University of Michigan crest.

The University of Michigan crest.

The map below shows the Ann Arbor area with various types of locations noted. The two maroon pins are where Borders and the Borders offices were located, with the teal pins marking the Michigan Theater and the University of Michigan, two organizations which had a long history with Borders. The pink diamonds show some of the Asian eateries brought up before, offering a variety of nationalities. The purple, lime green, and steel blue pins are showing various types of buildings which often seem to be more populous around universities (book stores, galleries, and coffee shops respectively). Looking at the map you may also notice that some of these pins are stars, which signifies a major national chain such as Barnes & Noble or Starbucks.

.fluid-wrapper {
position: relative;
padding-bottom: 56.25%; /* 16:9 */
height: 0;
.fluid-wrapper iframe {
position: absolute;
top: 0;
left: 0;
width: 100%;
height: 100%;
border: none;

Looking at the last three types of pins in particular, two trends become apparent. The first being the heavy concentration of businesses in the downtown area of AnnHarbor, which is also within easy distance of MichiganUniversity. The second is the sheer amount of non-national chains that are represented on the map. As corporate America seems to be sneaking its way into every aspect of daily life, many people are starting to feel more of a pull towards locally owned companies and independent stores, which I believe is evidenced by the fact that so many independent stores can coexist in a relatively small population. Could this shifting mindset have had any affect on the closing of the Ann Harbor Borders? While the bankruptcy of the company could not possibly have been determined by one town, and many residents continued to lament the loss of a personal landmark, other residents have also expressed their disenchantment with the store as Borders became so caught up in their national game.

Tim Creswell in his book Place: A Short Introduction talks a lot about the different ways the term “place” can be interpreted and applied. One of his first definitions incorporates the idea of ownership, and while Borders may have always been a company, for a long time the idea of it and the stories told by the original store belonged to the people of AnnHarbor (1). For many of the residents of AnnHarbor, no matter how large the company of Borders had grown, the store that started it all would have a separated identity from the rest of the chain because it was truly “theirs” before Borders became everyone’s. Throughout the first chapter Creswell offers many more definitions of “place”, but I believe the most fitting definition for not only Borders as a bookstore but Ann Arbor as a college town is the concept of “place as a way of understanding” (11). Bookstores and universities are two of the most iconic places to gain knowledge, and for forty years Ann Arbor was defined by both of those institutions.




Google Maps

Slurping Turtle

Borders Re-Development

Creswell, Tim. “Defining Place.” Place: A Short Introduction. New York City: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. 1-14. Print.