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Posted on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 7 p.m.

Share your memories of Borders' 40-year heritage in Ann Arbor

By Staff

For years, Borders was a uniquely Ann Arbor company.

Borders liquidating

Brothers Tom and Louis Borders founded the company in 1971 as an 800-square-foot book shop on South State Street in the shadow of the University of Michigan. (Here's an extensive timeline detailing Borders' rise and fall.)

Now, the company — which the Borders brothers sold nearly two decades ago — plans to liquidate. Nearly 11,000 employees will lose their jobs, and the company's 399 stores are expected to close.

What are your favorite memories of shopping at Borders? What was it like to shop there in its early days? And what frustrated you in its final years?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 6:30 p.m.

Back in 1985, I mentioned to a friend, a Michigan Ph.D. alumnus, that I was headed to Ann Arbor on business. You *must* save some time to go to Borders, my friend told me. He was right. I didn't save enough time that trip, and I didn't make that mistake again. The Borders on South State Street is the best bookstore I've ever patronized. Every visit was memorable, like the time I sat cross-legged on the floor browsing the Particle Physics for Bozos, er, non-physicists, books. A physics graduate student happened along, recommended "The Hunting of the Quark" -- still a favorite of mine -- and our wonderful conversation lasted until I had to catch my ride to the airport. A few years later, Borders opened on of its first mega-stores, in Pittsburgh, where I lived at the time. Even though I was skeptical that a big chain store could preserve the Ann Arbor atmosphere, for years I was happy in every Borders I visited. But, as others here have noted, what made Borders unique proved unsustainable. I still have my T-shirt from the Real Borders on South State Street -- quite good quality, considering it's over 20 years old. And I'll continue to wear it as a memento of times past. Thanks to everyone who has made Borders great over these last many years. You will be missed.

Kenneth Garner

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

I first walked into Borders as a teenager in the mid-1980s when it was still on State St. Until then, I had associated bookstores with boring racks of cheap, unreadable Signet paperbacks at B. Dalton's and Little Professor's. Borders opened my eyes to a whole new world of reading - in that era, the State St. store had practically everything you could imagine - from radical authors, to deluxe and annotated editions of literary works, independent press, university-press books, etc. Having discovered them and Dawn Treader's at the same time, Ann Arbor quickly became my biblio-Mecca. Practically every weekend, I would drive in to browse, read and take a few titles home with me. Friendships were made and developed there - my friends and I would often spend an hour or two there after dinner or before a movie browsing and discussing books. Even when Border's began to lose that quality after K-Mart purchased them in the mid-1990s - when the university- and small-press books disappeared - the environment and staff still helped to nurture a love of books and reading. Watching its decline and unraveling in the past few years has been heartbreaking. Still, I spent most of my youth there and I don't regret it for a second.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 3:03 p.m.

Borders on State St. was one of my favorite destinations as a kid in the early 1980s -- my parents would buy me whatever I wanted there, no holds barred: books on animals, herbs, gardening, fantasy, science-fiction, history, was a magical place and integral to increasing my love of reading (along with having truly excellent nerdy parents who valued books instead of drooling and gawping mindlessly at the "Idiot's Lantern".) Corporate Borders still had some great sci-fi and staff recommendations were always spot-on, but over the years the general selections dwindled. I had many friends who worked at the stores and in corporate...the stories of managerial excess, greed, and incompetence have circulated locally for years, and I am not surprised in the least at the corporation's demise. This is a disease in many large businesses - and until the culture changes, we'll see many more of these failures.

Henry Ruger

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

There once was a bookstore named Borders, A favorite of scholars and hoarders. But big business came in And the collection grew thin, So now Amazon gets all our orders.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 9:56 a.m.

When I first moved to Ann Arbor in 1986, I saw the original Borders store as being uniquely emblematic of the academic city - never had I been to a bookstore where staff were so knowledgable about books and willing to walk me to the shelves and discuss the virtues of one versus another. I'd love to see pictures of the interior of the store because I recall a sense of it being cozy, but it may have been bigger than I remember. I was sad when Borders became a chain because all that made it special was lost. Big stores, stocked with diversified kitsch, and salespeople who would be lost without a computer to look up a title - there was no reason to be brand loyal anymore. As someone else said, for Ann Arbor bibliophiles, Borders, and everything that made it wonderful, died a long time ago. I'm sorry for the employees losing jobs. I hope people will support our last remaing independent bookstore, Nicola's, at Westgate Plaza - I hate to see Ann Arbor left with only Barnes & Noble, another cavornous chain whose store is at least more attractive in some regards than Borders, but still lacks soul.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 7:11 a.m.

Borders sold their soul when they moved across State Street to inhabit the former Jacobsen's store. The original store had a perfect book-lover's environment - warm, welcoming and good proportions. Attempting to clone that concept a million times in barren strip malls was a fool's gambit. Border's originally had a concept that stores like Powell's Books in Portland continue thriving with today. My hope would be that someone who loves books and who also knows how to survive successfully in the book business keeps the Borders name, re-inhabits that original store-space on State Street, and re-establishes a book-lover's institution in Ann Arbor.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 6:48 a.m.

It is very unfortunate to see Borders book stores close. Many good memories of taking my daughter there over the years . Now she is 23 and had still frequented the establishment . It seems that because of our now failed economy (thank you Mr.President) , that many places she and I went to are now gone. We are all pawns in this country and they are using us to pay off the debts caused by their greedyness and at what ever cost , while good companies continue to fall .


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 11:41 a.m.

Pretty fetched to blame the failure of Borders on Obama... Bush gets full credit for the de/re-session which he handed to Obama. Regardless, the failure of Borders has almost nothing to do with the economy.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 10:15 a.m.

Border's did not fail because of the president, they failed because their management couldn't run a business. However, if you insist on blaming a president, please make it the one prior to our current one. Greediness, whatever...


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 3:08 a.m.

What has always bothered me about Border's was their pricing. I'm not talking about books. Sure I can get them cheaper on Amazon, but there is nothing like grabbing a book and looking through it before buying it, and the satisfaction of not having to wait for delivery. What really angered me was the fact the they priced DVDs at $29.99, and had them on "sale" for $19.99 (the regular price everywhere else). I was also disappointed how long it took them to embrace the Internet and have their own website NOT operated by Amazon.

Come On Already!

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 2:15 a.m.

"And what frustrated you in its final years?" ??? Isn't that question a bit leading? 11,000 people are going to be out of jobs and wants to turn this into a griping session? How about focusing on the more important how are these people going to fair? How is the Ann Arbor economy going to be impacted? Or what is going to write about now?


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:54 a.m.

Remember when you had to wait in line and they had 10 checkers at the registers? I always regretted needing one more book at the Holidays and having to wait in a long line. Couldn't blame them for putting bling up near the registers, but when the books upstairs were replaced with PaperChase products that was a bad sign. The store was almost the Community Hub for Ann Arbor. You always ran into someone you knew; hasn't been true for a few years. I always bought books at Borders - even recently - but as their selection became more specialized - best sellers, they often didn't have what I needed. At that point, I turned to Amazon. Sorry to see a brick/mortar store and all the loyal staff, bite the dust.

Kelly P

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:48 a.m.

I've worked for Borders for almost 15 years. In that time, I've been surrounded by some of the smartest, kindest, most talented people who have ever stepped foot on this earth. I'm sure the postmortems will be numerous. We've all got an idea of why Borders failed. As someone who has worked here for this long, I'd rather focus on the best moments. I have put thousands of books in thousands of hands in my ten years in the stores. I have learned something about each of them along the way. I have enriched their lives, and they have enriched mine. I thank all the wonderful coworkers I've had over the years at both the Waldenbooks at Briarwood, and the Borders Downtown. I thank all those customers who stopped to visit with me in store, or have clicked on Kelly's Picks because they trusted my recommendations online. I'm sorry to see Borders close, but I wouldn't trade back a minute of the last 14-ish years; it's been an honor, folks.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 2:15 a.m.

The honor is all ours, Ms. Kelly. :)

Katy D

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:12 a.m.

My introduction to Borders was a few weeks before we moved to Ann Arbor 26 years ago. We had come to Ann Arbor to look at houses and I wanted to buy a volume of a multi-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson for my husband for his birthday. Our real estate agent drove me to Borders, explaining that if the book was in print Borders would have it or order it. Sure enough, the fellow who waited on me cheerfully steered me to the "rear of the store, biography section, third shelf from the bottom, on the left, purple binding." Impressive! I always could rely on the comprehensive book sense and genuine literary passion of Borders employees. Not to mention inveterate cheerfulness and willingness to help.

Adam Modelski

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:02 a.m.

When they first opened it was a book lovers dream come true. I lived some distance from Ann Arbor and couldn't afford to buy many new books. But what a joy to just walk around and browse. Sorry it had to end but I immediatelly took advantage of Amazon and more recently we have the Book Exchange in Jackson, MI where I can buy books cheap(ly?) and get credit for them when I take them back. 40 years was a good run. Mismanaged? Probably so. Otherwise, they could have evolved. Hopefully, some people can salvage some things like store fixtures, signs, and/or form book reading clubs. Never had a bad experience there. ALWAYS left feeling better about the human race. Good luck and God Bless to alll of Borders' former employees and customers.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:55 a.m.

Back in the late 70's, I moved to Ann Arbor to be with my then fiance...and I was delighted by what was available in town. I remember when he first took me to Border's on State Street. The selection of books was truly amazing...such a selection of technically detailed stuff. This was a COLLEGE town! Even more amazing were the staff. They knew the collection inside and out....just like librarians. Rumor was that staff had to pass an examination in general knowledge to get hired. They could recommend authors, help lead you to the best book on a technical topic (the best being the one that matched your level and needs), and just walk over and pull the book you wanted right from the shelf. THIS is what I miss the most in this internet-shopping age....personal attention by knowledgeable sales people. When Borders went big time, it slowly changed into just another book store. I would go into stores and ask for help but rarely got much; then I gave up asking...and gave up going to the store. The real "Borders" died a long time ago. I think we (as consumers) have actually done ourselves a disservice by letting service go just to save 10%.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:50 a.m.

The original Borders was an awe-inspiring store. There were books on every subject, and the staff was very knowledgeable. It was an exciting place to shop. Over the years, I have continued to enjoy shopping at Borders and especially enjoyed visiting with the very dedicated and professional staff. However, I began to notice slow and subtle changes about five years ago. The number of books diminished and empty shelf space was filled with "turnouts" and more and more I heard the booksellers say "I'm sorry, we don't have that title, but we can order it for you." As the stock dwindled, so did the store traffic, and now, there is nothing left. Through it all, the booksellers themselves remained outstanding. They were the real heart of Borders, and the company should be grateful for their unselfish work as the situation continued to deteriorate. There are many names that I could mention but, as I stated elsewhere, Shannon at Arborland/Waters Place, and Terry downtown were especially helpful always and a joy to interact with. The Borders employees should be very proud of having tried their best. They will be missed.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:33 a.m.

The changes in the Childrens' section is what got me. There are hardly any BOOKs in there anymore, for all the toys! And at eye-level with the kids? Highly branded Disney-fied crummy "books" based on movie and TV plots. Not even a remotely enriching environment in which to bring your kids to browse and become inspired. I used to love spending an hour in there with my kids, but recently, with those changes, I won't even bring them in there.

Tom Joad

Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 11:54 p.m.

In the early years, the full breadth and comprehensibility in the fields of scientific and computer books was unparalleled outside an academic library. Sadly over the past years as they couldn't keep up with displaying everything under the sun. Books still have relevance but the future is electronic text, no doubt about it.

Wystan Stevens

Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 11:41 p.m.

In the 1970s, the writer Sven Birkerts (son of Gunnar Birkerts, the architect who designed the Law School's underground library) worked at the Borders brothers' third Ann Arbor location (on State Street, where the Red Hawk Grill is now). He recalls his years of employment there in limpid prose, in a chapter of his book "The Gutenberg Elegies," which is all about books and reading.

Paul Taylor

Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 11:21 p.m.

As an employee in the mid-90s, I saw Borders get "mediochred" to death, through a series of actions designed to save a few cents here (cutting down a skilled workforce, developed over the course of two decades), and prevent theoretical feared lawsuits there (eliminating the written exam I was proud to have passed to get hired on). Business brains and legal eagles, fearful for their egos, turned a once-robust operation into a weak shadow of a ghost of its former self. Any five store employees could have run the company better. Oh, they'll blame the economy and the change in consumer tastes, but the blame lays squarely at the feet of the top executives. Everyone else gave 110% to make it a wonderful bookstore. The execs gave 110% to making sure they got golden parachutes before they were found out for fools.