Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Death of a Bookstore

I got this email today and felt a rush of sadness. The Borders in Ocoee was more than just a concrete edifice to me. It was a refuge.

Its standalone building was right outside West Oaks Mall and just a 10-minute drive from one of the most spirit-crushing, self-esteem hijacking jobs I've ever held in my life. On many an afternoon, I ate my lunch at my desk then escaped to Borders on my closely scrutinized one-hour break.

I always paused after opening the first set of double doors to glance at the super bargain books on display in the little entry way--$2 and $3. I never found anything there I wanted, but I stopped for a minute anyway.

I'd enter the second set of double doors, sighing as if my feet had just sunk into the warm sands of a secluded beach. I usually bypassed the magazines and the new releases and drifted towards the self-help section. There, in search of inspiration, I flipped through books like Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and Enough Already!: Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You. On particularly heinous days, I’d whisper a prayer, asking the Lord to lead me to the words that would give me enough hope to get in my car and drive back to the Dark Side.

Of course there were days when Borders didn’t have to play the role of my therapist. I sometimes buzzed into the store on a mission, researching information for my blog or an essay. When the subject was love or lack thereof, I browsed books like He’s Not That Into You; Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay; and Falling in Love for All the Right Reasons: How to Find Your Soul Mate. Suitable quotes were typed into the memo app on my phone; longer passages were read into the recorder to transcribe later.

One of my most memorable moments at that Borders came a few days after November 4, 2008. I heard a man shouting and cursing near the front of the store. “Who in the world would be fighting inside a bookstore?” I thought, as my curiosity led me to the scene of the racket. I arrived just in time to see a white man in his 70s stomp past the huge display of all things Obama, ranting about “fire-breathing liberals.”

“Geez, somebody’s mad,” the saleswoman with the long, graying hair muttered as she rang up my purchase.

“Well...I’m not,” I said with a smile.

The saleswoman looked up and smiled too. “Me neither.”

I don’t think I’ve visited that Borders since I was blessed with a new job on the other side of town. Yet, it still saddens me to see it go. I got the emails about its massive closing sale and had every intention of stopping by to score some cheap books, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’d rather remember the store in its prime, smelling of paper and coffee; offering humor, wisdom, and ampersand bookends.

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