Last week I happened to bump into an old friend who mentioned the local Borders Bookstore in our downtown area was closing, and I was dumbfounded. That Borders is always packed. I know times are tough economically, but I had difficulty believing my favorite bookstore in town was closing down.
Then this morning, I went into the Goleta branch of Borders and talked to the employees there and apparently I wasn’t the only one to be misinformed. The Santa Barbara Borders has no intention of closing; it is surviving well and still in business. The Barnes and Noble across the street, however, is shutting down. This information does not surprise me.
The reason I love Borders bookstores is because they give their customers oodles of communal space to just come, sit down with a book, and enjoy a cup of coffee where no one will bother you. In a society where communal spaces are diminishing in favor of virtual space, Borders offers a safe and welcome haven to its customers. I can watch people as I work, and quite often Borders has musicians and author events to attend as well. And the thing I most treasure is that not one of the staff ever makes me feel guilty for sitting down with a book I may or may not purchase in the end. Instead, they seem to encourage it, with their large cafe spaces and plush couches scattered about the store.
I admit there have been times I’ve read entire books or magazines that I didn’t end up buying. But more often than not, I have picked up books, read them for an hour or two, and then purchased them. I’ve also wandered by books twenty or thirty times before eventually breaking down and buying them–and ended up getting the entire series. If I had felt rushed or in any way uncomfortable just hanging out in the bookstore, I most likely would never have bought those books And probably the largest chunk of my paycheck outside rent goes to Borders because I am able to do that; I am able to just hang out and peruse at my leisure.
At Barnes and Noble, one is hard pressed to find a space to sit other than the floor, and the cafe is shoved hidden towards the back, and there is less of an atmosphere encouraging one to stay and relax. Somehow the organizational scheme makes a little less intuitive sense than at Borders, and at the Santa Barbara branch at least, the store is darker. I am attracted to open, sunny spaces, and thus am a happier soul at Borders.