Walking into Heaven

Christopher Morley clearly states how valuable he finds books to be in his novel The Haunted Bookshop.  I think many readers would agree with the Protagonist’s statement that “there is indeed a heaven on this earth, a heaven which we inhabit when we read a good book” (Chapter Two).   Throughout history, those who sell books have often wondered what their role would be in a changing world. There was speculation the 1800’s that the popularity of the public library and the mail would replace the need for book retailers, but they have always survived (Tebbel 16). People enjoy reading and enjoy the experience of being able to hold and own a book, and each retailer employs a method to distinguish itself among the rest.  During the forty years it was in business, this was especially important for Borders Books, since its original location in Ann Arbor forced it to compete with nineteen other bookshops for a customer base.


A glimpse of a remodeled Borders in California

Borders started out selling used books but quickly switched exclusively to new merchandise after a few years of success allowed them to move from the two rooms they occupied on South State Street into what was formerly a Jacobson Department Store.  Employees at the store were well known for their literary knowledge and they truly served to guide the customer to discover a love for books that they may not have known they had.  Staff recommendations consistently sold more copies then national bestsellers and the store also had a reputation for carrying a large selection titles even if they didn’t sell more than one copy in a year.  Thus, there was a pretty good chance that you could walk out of the store with the title you wanted and at least two others you hadn’t planned on purchasing.  Many of those who loved the original Borders blame the chain’s rapid expansion for causing its slow but steady downfall, but through its forty year history, Borders did retain very recognizable features from its maple bookshelves and the font on its signs, to the sticker on the back of the book.  The BINC system used by the chain gave both a barcode and a price for each item.  For those who knew what to look for, you could even tell which Borders store the book was sold in.


BINC stickers that came from store #236

The Borders in the Ann Arbor was the first of the chain to be remodeled in an attempt to stimulate the falling sales of the company. They enlisted the help of GRID2 International, New York to create a new design for their store that highlighted the diversity of the merchandise they carried and catered to the customers of these different areas. As president of GRID2, Martin Roberts, explains “there are the reference customers, usually 15-30 years of age, who are looking for specific information. There are customers looking for CDs, usually 30-50 years of age, who buy new wave and international music. There are moms in the children’s area, and then there are the DVD customers” (Carlton ).  Yet, these efforts to make the world of books appeal to a wider audience do did not please everyone. Joe Gable, who was an employee in the first years of Borders existence and went on to head the company for twenty years, complained that this new store, “tried to take the book business, which is complex and boring, and make it simple and sexy” Borders had lost its focus as a bookstore(Leopold).

This new store allowed customers to observe the layout of the store from the entryway, where tables featuring the latest and greatest releases of books, music and movies awaited them.  If the customer moved to the right, they would be looking at books of the fiction variety conveniently alphabetized by the author’s last name and organized by subjects indicated by large overhead signs.  These categories included: mystery, Thrillers, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Sports/Adventure, and School/Friendship/Humor (Borders in Ann Arbor).  Under this new design, there is more space between the shelves and the walls are red, with pictures of authors and book-related quotes decorating the walls.  Borders chose to cut the number of titles they stock and display more book on the shelves face-out, as well as dedicating more space to displays.  The non-fiction titles were found under such categories as:  Art, Music, Crafts, Cooking, Humor, Sports, General Science, and Nature.

Book picture

A decoration in the book section of store #567

Continuing in a clockwise direction led the customer to the Borders café which offered comfortable seating to lounge with a book or newspaper in addition to enjoying some refreshments or an event hosted by the store.  The children section which even features small tables and chairs to accommodate the younger readers is the next section within this circle. The movies and music also finds a place within this section, which is equipped with the technology for customers to listen to samples of songs and watch movie trailers prior to purchase. The final section houses magazines, stationary and other gift items before the customer approaches the checkout counter and walks out the door.

With this layout then, the Borders experience was modified over the course of forty years but still attempted to provide an individualized experience for each customer and perhaps the best description of what Borders was lies in the words of those who mourn its closing.  Ann Miller wrote in the Longmont Weekly from Colorado, “There was no better place for grazing the written word and for meeting the best of friends” (Leopold).  Borders may have started in Michigan as an independent store, but it became a chain with hundreds of stores in the United States and some in foreign nations as well.  Books are each small heavens that are capable of placing a reading in another world, but they also serve as journals of where you are and where you’ve been. The mediums to enjoy the written word are constantly changing, but the bookstore has always adapted.  So even though Borders went under, the spirit of it still exists in all bookstore patrons who still long to learn something of life outside of their own experience by building their libraries.







“Borders in Ann Arbor: It’s All About Subjects.” A Place for Everything: Examining the Organization of Children’s Materials in Bookstores & Libraries: Borders, Ann Arbor, MI. University of Michigan, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. http://sitemaker.umich.edu/666bookstoreorlibrary/borders__ann_arbor__mi.


Carlton, Rachel. “Border Store Layout.” Retailing. Blogspot, 4 Feb. 2005. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. http://retail0.blogspot.com/2005/02/borders-store-layout.html.


Leopold, Todd. “The Death and Life of a Great American Bookstore.” CNN. Cable News Network, 12 Sept. 2011. Web. 24 Sept. 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/09/12/first.borders.bookstore.closing/index.html.


Morley, Christopher. “Chapter II: The Corn Cob Club.” The Haunted Bookshop. N.p.: Wilder Publications, 1919. N. pag. Print.


Tebbel, John. “A Brief History of American Bookselling.” Bookselling in America and the World: Some Observations & Recollections in Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the American Booksellers Association. New York: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book, 1975. 16. Print.




“Borders Class of 2011 and before.” Borders Class of 2011 and before. Facebook, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. https://www.facebook.com/groups/229620883744332/