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Posted on Wed, Feb 16, 2011 : 5:23 p.m.

What are your memories of Borders and its impact on Ann Arbor?

By Paula Gardner


Borders operated for many years at 303 S. State, building its local reputation as a premier bookseller.

Ann Arbor District Library

Borders Group Inc. grew out of an independent book store that opened on Ann Arbor's South State street in 1971.

That name and its reputation as a quality book retailer developed into a leading national brand.

Borders became one of the city's largest employers and most significant corporate headquarters, as well as a point of pride for the region.

It also became downtown Ann Arbor's largest retailer, even as superstores anchored major retail developments like Arborland in Ann Arbor and other prominent locations - like New York's World Trade Center - across the country.

Borders' footprint in Ann Arbor remained as the brand suffered and corporate officials fought for its survival over recent years.

With today's news, we'd like to hear your recollections of the store and the company, and their impact on Ann Arbor.



Wed, Mar 2, 2011 : 3:16 a.m.

I bought a book there a long time ago. I can't remember who was the author but I know it was a book.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

I remember my Mom, brother, and I walking into town from our Burns Park neighborhood every weekend and being allowed to select one book each to take home. I think our mom was ahead of her time; she believed the only way we would start reading for fun was to allow us to select our own reading materials. This was during the years that the story was a bi-level next to Crowns Gifts on State Street. Our walk back through the Diag, with our newly purchased books always seemed to take forever. It was comfortable, laid back store, and the folks working there were patient (with us kids) and highly intelligent. Many of the friendly staff suggested great books and I will forever miss the family atmosphere, discussing books, and watching the beautiful plants grow as my mind expanded. Thanks Border's and thanks to my Mom.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 10:20 p.m.

When my wife and I returned to Ann Arbor for graduate/law school in 1972, the State Street Borders was not very old. (I did my undergrad in Ann Arbor in the 60's and nothing like Borders existed at that time.) My wife and I, and later our two children, spent countless hours (and a lot of money) at Borders, both at its State Street store and, later, when it took over the old Jacobson's spot on Liberty. In more recent years, we have seldom lost a chance to visit and shop at Borders stores wherever throughout the country or living arrangements or travel have taken us. Whether in New York, Chicago, LA or the DC area, we have never failed to find great experiences at the numerous Borders stores in the areas. In fact, one of things that has disappointed us most over the years is the absence of Borders stores in my old home town of Grand Rapids, MI. I hope they make it, but if not, our memories of many great experiences at Borders.

Wystan Stevens

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 1:55 a.m.

Sven Birkerts' book, "The Gutenberg Elegies, contains a memoir, beautifully written, of his years as an employee of the Borders brothers, when their store was located where the Red Hawk steakhouse is now, on State Street. It was the former longtime location of the legendary Wahr's University Bookstore. Tom and Lou bought out Wahr's when it closed, and were located on those premises for a few years, during which they switched their inventory from used to new books, prior to moving to the former Wagner's mens clothing store space across the street.


Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 5:29 a.m.

I remember the new teacher at St. Thomas used to entertain her co-workers by playing the spoons at the lunch table. The spoons were an "instrument" she learned as a child in the south. She told us to check out the small bookstore her husband, Tom and his brother just opened down the street from our school. I saved some money when I picked up a used book for my graduate English class at the shop.


Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 4:39 a.m.

Oh, and I forgot getting my tux for the 9th grade formal at Wild's.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 5:57 p.m.

You forgot Marty's! :)


Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 4:37 a.m.

My memories are more of the childrens selection, being taken by either my mom or dad. In my formative years when I could roam the State Street corridor area and stores with my paper route money, cruising on my Tony Hawk board before it was outlawed, I spent more of my time at State Discount, Schoolkids, Makewaves, Discount Records, Wazoo, Burger King, Mickey Rats, Campus Bike and Toy(drooling over items in the skateboard section), Mason Edwards, Drakes, Focus, McDonalds and State Street movies, with a rare stop at Jacobson's.


Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 4:32 a.m.

I don't want anyone to take this as a negative or anything but my most recent memory of Border's downtown is all the overly aggressive beggars that always seem to be out front. They're more persistent than any other beggars I've met. But I do hope that Border's is able to get through this, it's sad to see a nationally prominent company with so many ties to Ann Arbor having so much financial trouble.


Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 3:56 a.m.

I remember discovering the State Steet store when I moved to Ann Arbor in 1993. I loved the crazy way the stacks sort of meandered all over the place. The staircases between floors seemed to show up in random places. I always made sure to take visitors to see it. I bragged to friends in other towns about the great bookstore we had in the Ann Arbor. I was just as excited when they moved to their current downtown location. I remember how exciting it was --- before the days of the Internet penetration --- to find specialized technical books in my field at Borders. I would always spend at least an hour browsing and never left empty handed. But today so much information is available for free at my fingertips it just doesn't create the same thrill for me. It's just not as hard to find deep reservoirs of knowledge. For me Borders started to lose its way when they opened the Arborland store and put so much real estate and infrastructure into music sales. Then videos. Then racks of cards, gag gifts, food, etc. You now navigate a maze of the dreck to the get to the counter. I went to Borders a few days ago, and I want to go again many times in the future. I hope they can find their way back.

Paula Gardner

Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 2:29 a.m.

I remember spending a lot of time in the old store on State Street - I could "waste" an afternoon there during college. After graduating, I'd never stop downtown without running into Borders. One of my clearest memories of the store is walking through the upper level with some friends, each of us finding our own little area of interest - and finding it hard to leave the store. That day, I ended up "striking gold" on the clearance tables, finding a then-recent volume of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism and a first-hand account of an American journalist who'd been imprisoned in Cambodia during the Vietnam war, among the armful that I bought. I think I still have both, which were excellent (and inexpensive). I've thought about them a lot recently, and how easy it was to discover truly good writing and unique perspectives even in the clearance section of that store.

David Frye

Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 1:32 a.m.

What really stood out for me when I first "discovered" Borders -- at 303 S. State in the mid-1980s, before it went national -- was the large section by the main cash register of books by local authors and new university press books. I hadn't seen that anywhere before, and it inspired a lot of loyalty. Unfortunately, that section didn't survive the move to the Jacobson's building. Ann Arbor would be a poorer place without the "real" Borders. But to be honest, it's already a poorer place without Shaman Drum and AfterWords.

David Martel

Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 1:28 a.m.

I've always thought of Borders as a wonderful place to spend time, to explore and to satisfy curiosity. I believe that their culture has always fostered and embraced exploring and learning, not just selling product. When Borders used to work with a local advertising agency, Perich + Partners, I had the fortunate experience to work on the account. I think these locally created TV spots captured the essence of what I'm referring to. Do you remember them? <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 12:52 a.m.

It's been a very long time since Borders was different or a more pleasureable shopping experience than any chain bookstore. They lost me as a fan long before the rise of Amazon, e-books, etc. I always found their reputation for service overhyped. Sure the staff was highly educated, but that doesn't necessarily make one good at customer service. My favorite book store in the area is without a doubt John King Books in Detroit.


Wed, Feb 16, 2011 : 11:41 p.m.

Borders was one of the first places I discovered when I moved to A2 in 1979. Lots of hours and $$ spent there, let me tell you. And like Jessica, we always had to take out-of-towners to Borders, Schoolkids (I miss that place!!), and Zingerman's.

Phil Dokas

Wed, Feb 16, 2011 : 10:57 p.m.

A small note, the photo in this article is of Borders's original location at 211 S. State which is soon to be the home of CVS, not its later home of 303 S. State.

Jessica Webster

Wed, Feb 16, 2011 : 10:01 p.m.

I remember back when there were three places you always had to take out-of-town visitors: Schoolkids' Records, Zingerman's Deli, and the State Street Borders store.

Linda Peck

Wed, Feb 16, 2011 : 9:55 p.m.

I do remember shopping at Borders back in the 1970s. It was a lovely place, great selection, very popular, of course. I especially liked their children's section. These days, I will stop into Borders at Oak Valley, but prefer to go to a smaller shop such as Nicola's which is another independent bookshop, as well as a few others about town. I like small bookshops. Borders was not really small even then, but it was appealing. For me and lots of folks around here, we like our local shops and we like smaller shops. I don't need to buy coffee and cake at my bookstore. My motto? Buy locally owned first. Borders has not been that for a long time.