Like Jay, I remember the original Borders store in Ann Arbor. When I discovered it in 1988, it was a revelation — the best bookstore in the world. Up to that point, I had done most of my book-buying at indistinguishable stores that pushed best-sellers and carried similar, predictable inventories. Borders seemed to cram an enormous amount of books into a small space and had single copies of thousands of titles, including many that couldn’t be found anywhere else. It was a book browser’s dream. The staff was famously knowledgeable. For consumers, it presented a new kind of choice. During its initial expansion, Borders maintained this strategy. Over time, it began to look like the stores it originally had competed against, just bigger. I remained a Borders loyalist for a long time, but by the late 1990s, it had abandoned its former, wonderful self. I’ll miss Borders when it’s gone, but in truth it’s been gone for a while already, like a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
Today, I’m a big fan of Amazon.com. I also enjoy small, independent bookstores. The best ones often occupy a funny niche, thriving (or struggling) in towns that are large enough to need a bookstore but too small to have attracted a Borders or Barnes and Noble. Tomorrow, I’ll be signing copies of The Big Scrum at one of my favorites: Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Mich.