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Posted on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 2:05 p.m.

Farewell to Borders: 3 things for Ann Arbor to consider as book store closes

By Paula Gardner


The Michigan Theater offers a farewell to Borders on Monday afternoon as the doors to the flagship store in downtown Ann Arbor were locked for good.

Nathan Bomey |

Previous story: Final day arrives for Borders' flagship store in downtown Ann Arbor

I’d planned to walk over to the Borders store in downtown Ann Arbor today to say good-bye, but didn’t get the chance: The store closed at noon, hours before staff planned to lock the doors for the final time.

No one at the store would give an official reason, but they were preparing the entire store’s remaining books for a single buyer.

Ironically, given the chain’s sales struggles over recent years, a seemingly endless parade of prospective shoppers still tried to get in even after the “closed” sign was posted on the door.

But attracting shoppers in Ann Arbor never was Borders’ primary problem. In the city where it was founded, where it supported 3 chains and the corporate headquarters, and where book lovers mourned its changes over time as much as its demise, Borders was loved and strong.


From left, Gary Ernst of Ann Arbor and his wife Roseanne Ernst peek in the windows as Borders employee Merrie Atlas of Ann Arbor stands guard at the door, turning people away on Monday at the now-closed flagship store in downtown Ann Arbor. "Let me look in one last time," Gary Ernst said.

Joseph Tobianski |

I’m sad - and much more emotional than I thought I’d be - about seeing the doors locked.

Here are my top 3 thoughts about Borders this afternoon:

1. The human capital needs to remain an Ann Arbor asset. All of the people in the store today had the job that I’d coveted as an undergrad. Who wouldn’t want to work in a wonderful book store? Those folks were still doing it at the end, ringing up books even after the store was closed to the public. Smart and dedicated, their re-employment in Ann Arbor will tell us something about how this community is able to find opportunity for talent outside of the high-tech, scientific fields that we try very hard to attract.

2. The building presents Ann Arbor a tremendous real estate opportunity - but it will need some creativity (and possibly help from the city) to make that happen. The reasons it will need help are well-documented: It’s large, involves multiple owners and some of the upper level office space doesn’t even have windows. Yet the foot traffic in front of it - even as the business was closing - remains incredibly active. The corner of State and Liberty has become the driver of downtown, and the next tenant or tenants of this building should find the location golden. But it's not a given.


A sign is taped up on the door of Borders on Monday afternoon in Ann Arbor. The store closed its doors forever at noon.

Joseph Tobianski |

3. Who feels ownership about filling this space? The owners, obviously. The listing broker. But considering the real estate opportunity reminds me that multiple entities have an investment in the building’s outcome - but it’s not clear to me who in Ann Arbor is helping to drive a new, significant tenant. The city? The Downtown Development Authority? The State Street Association? The University of Michigan? The A2Y Chamber of Commerce? Each could have a role in recruiting and making the location attractive and interesting for its constituents. I see this building’s vacancy as an opportunity for communication and collaboration, too.



Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:14 a.m.

I think the point of mourning today for so many of us, is not the company or the store itself. It's the people. I worked at 2 Borders Stores in Chicago for most of my college years and some afterward. I met my best friends there and some of the best people I know. We're mourning the loss of something that was a big part of our lives.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

Nicola's downtown!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

I always thought Border's was over priced on many items and last week when I went downtown for the "Going out of business sale" this is what I purchased: 3 dvds 4 Blu ray dvds 4 books Most 80% to 90% off with an extra 15% for buying over 10 items. Total cost $32.00.Total savings based on pre marked down price, over $200.00. Pretty clear why they didn't make it.

Buzz Baldrin

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 9:19 a.m.

To Jsn: Lucky you. You shop in Canton and don't have to dodge UM students, street people or other colorful pedestrians. Instead, you only have to dodge a perpetual stream of gas guzzlers on Ford Road, that congested five-lane blacktop that runs through your "downtown," from Meijer to Sam's Club. Yippie ki yay!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

At least we are in the heart of it. We have everything central to our needs. Unlike Ann Arbor where you really have to drive out of your way to get where you need to go. Nice close Target, Wal Mart and a Home Depot to boot. As for gas guzzlers? We have really nice sidewalks to bike and walk on. Gotta try it out. Won't have to play dodge em cars in the dark when you walk to a store.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 4:20 a.m.

To jns - Yeah, and Canton has such a vibrant, walkable downtown center. A real, livable feel. Lots of historic houses, eclectic neighborhoods, cultural offerings, and a widely diverse population. Parks out the wazoo. Bike paths everywhere. A real sense of community. Truly, the heart of it all. Oh, wait ...


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:59 p.m.

We have our own dog park too.....


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3:01 a.m.

Keep meaning to check out the one on Canton. We no longer frequent Ann Arbor when Borders left Arborland. There is nothing to attract us to downtown Ann Arbor except a bunch of students we have to dodge. Glad to be in Canton. Shopping is so much easier. We will miss Borders. Great service. We hate Barnes and Noble. Too pricey. So, I guess it is amazon we go. Thanks for the heads up.

Jim Zamberlan

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:56 a.m.

First photo caption has an error, it should be peek, not peak.

Somewhat Concerned

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:47 a.m.

I'll miss having to walk around the sleeping, snoring homeless guys upstairs, with a book propped up as if they were reading it, and the panhandlers just outside the door. The store had some pretty good booksellers right up to the end, but it also had some real grouches. I hope Luis and the nice ones land with something good and stay in town. The big concern at this point is whether the suburban malling of Ann Arbor will continue with this space. Will we get another Five Guys, another 7-11, another American Apparel, any other chain that makes us just like everybody else? Most likely, because they pay the highest rent, and that's what matters to most of the landlords in town. The Downtown Development Authority and the Chamber of Commerce would love to brag about bringing in a Gap or A&F. Where is the barf bag?


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

One more thought: I don't remember if this was covered but I wonder if KMart Corp. might consider putting in one of their Walden Books stores in that location? It's not like there's no need for a specific, large, book store downtown. Remember, it was the "extra 200 stores" that did the dirty deed to Borders' operation, NOT the actual "flagship store."


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3:31 a.m.

WERE a few left, I should say. If they aren't closed yet, they will be this week.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3 a.m.

Waldenbooks is Borders. They became one company when K-mart sold them. Most of the Waldenbooks (I believe it was 75-80%) were restructured as Borders Express in 2002-2003. There are a few left, but they are few and far between.

Kenneth Garner

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:43 a.m.

KMart sold both Borders and Waldenbooks many years ago. All the Waldenbooks, to my knowledge, have already closed.

Rob Henderson

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:41 a.m.

I'm pretty sure all the Waldenbooks were also closed as part of the bankruptcy.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:08 a.m.

Macabre is dead-on: The time to "mourn" occurred years ago. Let this serve as a lesson to innovative businesses: Don't expand unsustainably, don't grow to the point where you have hundreds of branches -- each indistinguishable from the next -- in every strip mall in the land, and don't grow to the point where you no longer stand out as a destination. It got to the point where Borders was no longer special. And, in the age of Barnes and Noble and Amazon, why should people go to Borders?


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:07 a.m.

Aside from the sarcasm, I think Macabre Sunset says it best. Our concern must now be on hoping there are responsible people and agencies working to re-fill the former Borders store with an appropriate (and successful) successor business. I will miss only: the ability to order online and then walk down to the store where my purchase is waiting for me. It was a real convenience, especially during the holidays when trying to fill unmet needs on my gift list - at 2AM. ;-) I wonder if anyone (like the DDA, etc) has thought of creating a communal website for - all - of the businesses in each commercial district? That is, one where you could go shopping at the retailers in a district (Main, State, South U), place your order and then go pick it up (at your "reasonable" convenience)? For example: I've been a customer at the Loy's Campus Student Bike Shop for years. They currently have only a "front" website, where you can get directions, the phone number, store hours. What if they could put their inventory online? When I want a certain brand of bike wheel or want to schedule a bike repair: I have to go directly to the shop or call and ask questions. National bike retailers have their own "shopping cart" system, you don't have to go to the store "for every little thing" but can just have it shipped to you. Likewise, Borders had virtually the same kind of "store website" - you could order stuff and either have it shipped or pick it up. If that bike shop joined with some of the other businesses in the same area: why couldn't they have a multi-store website to do that kind of convenient shopping. It could only help business, after all. There was a long-time Main Street jewelry store which did exactly what I'm talking about. Has anyone heard whether that was a success?


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 9:04 p.m.

So very, very sad. A terrible loss to our community. We understand that the infrastructure of the building is going to need an awful lot of work. Sure hope that the owners of the building will find appropriate tenant(s).

Nick Pirce

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

End of an era

Darth Pablo

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

I stopped by yesterday after work to say my goodbuy's. Such a shell of what it use to be. Took pictures, rode the elevator one last time. Spent every day there in the summer of 95. Damn near cried. Just cherish the memories.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:02 p.m.

I will truly miss that store. My family and friends used it frequently as a meeting place...To me, it defined Ann Arbor, in a sense.

Kai Petainen

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 6:47 p.m.

it sucks... losing an Ann Arbor landmark.

Mark Salke

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 6:42 p.m.

Wouldn't it make an awesome live music venue?

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 6:39 p.m.

There's an awful lot of hand-wringing today for a mass-market chain store that is the complete opposite of the innovative little book shop that opened on State Street decades ago. Why mourn today? The mourning took place when the brothers sold to K-Mart ages ago. As for help from the city filling the space? Good one. Unless it's a dedicated space for panhandling or a train station, all the city cares about is putting up pictures.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 9:35 p.m.

West of Main- to call Borders soulless is to discount the soul that the people put into their personal stores. I worked at the Borders Express (Waldenbooks) in Briarwood for 10 years before it closed last year, and I shopped there from the time I was a little girl (both in the multiple Briarwood locations and across the street in Concord Center). I loved that store more than I love most people. Definitely more than I love some celebrity I've never met. That store was a home for me, and one of the great loves of my life. In those 4 walls, I learned how to live, and I met many, many great friends, coworkers and customers alike, that have and will remain an extremely important part of my life. I'm still mourning that loss over a year and a half later. And I mourn as the remaining stores close, and as my many friends at the Home Office lose their jobs. Borders may have become a corporate bookstore, but it has NEVER been soulless.

Blazingly Busy

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 9:22 p.m.

Thanks Kenneth. I had just moved to the area in 1992 and it is likely that I was unaware (and young, early 20's).

Kenneth Garner

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 9:14 p.m.

K-Mart purchased Borders in 1992. Three years later, they relocated the downtown store from State St. (where the M-Den currently resides) to Liberty and Maynard. It gradually became "corporate book store" after that but I'm not quite sure why Macabre Sunset begrudges those of us who are saddened by this closing. Many of us who remember and loved the pre-corporate Borders still enjoyed spending our hours and money meeting friends, browsing, and generally just being within a tranquil and hospitable environment. True, selection is the essential quality of any bookstore, but they also offer much more than other retail outlets, providing sociability, discovery and even a sense of community. Is it truly mawkish to mourn the closing of yet another bookstore, especially one where many happy hours were spent? Anyways, I agree with your point that Borders had long since stopped being a truly unique book store; but its still like losing an old, dear friend, even if he sold out and went corporate twenty years ago. Like favorite celebrities and sports heroes, you still love them even when they're no longer what they used to be.

Blazingly Busy

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:59 p.m.

What year did K-Mart purchase Borders? Seems to me I don't recall that. I recall K-Mart purchasing Sears.

West of Main

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

Sports heroes and celebrities are human beings, this "flagship" Borders was just a soulless corporate bookstore.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

Borders was a lot more than a "mass market chain store" to many people, myself included. It was more than just a place to shop or a place we worked. It meant as much to us as sports heroes and celebrities mean to others. I don't understand people who mourn those types, but I don't dismiss their grief. If you don't understand, that's fine. Let the rest of us mourn for something that was important to us.