Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bye Bye Borders

It's sad news for Back Bay that we're losing our Borders bookstore. I read the news yesterday, just after posting about a recent, disappointing trip there. While they may have too many Jackie Collins titles to suit my idiosyncratic taste, I've certainly relied on that store and bought my share of books there over the years. It was an ideal spot to while away a dull afternoon; the café on the second floor was always lively, every seat holding a freshly caffeinated person with a laptop or new book purchase. I've spent many happy hours in the travel and local history sections downstairs, and upstairs among the art, architecture, and photography books. And let's not forget their vast cooking section....

Plus it's always fun to take a quick wander straight through the store, entering on Newbury and exiting on Boylston, or vice versa, and checking out new fiction and glossy home and fashion magazines along the way.

It's hard to see a beloved neighborhood bookstore turn into yet another big, empty, retail hole — and we Back Bay residents have had quite a bit of experience with this type of departure. Borders is going the way of Waterstone's, Buddenbooks, the Harvard Bookstore Café, Avenue Victor Hugo, Rizzoli, the Globe Travel Bookstore, Waldenbooks, the Barnes & Noble on Boylston Street, and no doubt several other former bookstores who have slipped my mind. I guess we just don't have enough voracious readers in Back Bay. Or are we all Amazon shoppers? I wonder.

Literate locals still have the Trident Booksellers & Café, which has, among other things, an excellent selection of occult and New Age books, if that's your thing. It's not my mine, but wouldn't an encyclopedia of spells would look interesting on the coffee table? Then there's the handsome recent arrival from Cambridge, Raven Used Books, which has good selections of classics and literature. Let's keep our fingers crossed that we'll always have the big Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Mall. I've never been fond of B&N because, as a frugal shopper, I just can't see paying $25 a year to join their discount program. At Borders, it cost me nothing. But these three stores are ever more precious elements in our retail scene — and I hope they'll thrive without Borders's competition.

But they just don't feel like enough.

Those of us who are walkers can make a brisk, 25-minute trip to the Borders downtown (where a broken escalator and packed elevators make getting upstairs a challenge) or head to the BU Bookstore in Kenmore, which is another Barnes & Noble. Go a little further and you can find deals (and at least one cat) at the Boston Book Annex at 906 Beacon Street. I'm always happy to browse in the Brattle Book Shop on West Street downtown, although I never have any luck in their haphazard outdoor discount lot. Otherwise, it's off to Harvard Square, or over to Coolidge Corner to the excellent Brookline Booksmith. There are still a few other independent bookstores, like Commonwealth Books, downtown; I don't mean this list to be comprehensive.  But the Back Bay Borders is going to be missed. (At least the space is too big to be taken over by yet another nail salon.)

Waterstone's, are you listening?

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