Sylvia needed to exchange something at the Apple store, so we stopped by the Cambridgeside Galleria after brunch on Saturday. We came out on the second floor, immediately opposite a Borders. “You mentioned you had a gift card, or might have a gift card,” I said. “Is there anything you …”
Sylvia, who hadn’t set more than a toe into the store, watched me vanish inside. “I’ll text you when I’m done,” she said to my back.
Living in Boston over a decade now, I knew the Cambridgeside Borders pretty well. I’d shopped here for gifts, picked myself up after job interviews with impulse buys, and whiled away summer afternoons with a random novel and a comfy chair. It wasn’t an intimate acquaintance, but it felt familiar because it felt like every other Borders. The same faux wood paneling, the same all-weather carpeting and soft but pervasive lighting. The warm feelings you had for your childhood Borders – the one that opened in Towson when I was twelve, a shot of unstepped heroin for a boy who’d grown up on Waldenbooks – were meant to be transferred to every Borders in the world. Thus the merits of corporate design.
The Borders in Cambridgeside Galleria has, as of this writing, less than a week to live. Shelves once bursting with books are now sparse, stacked with multiple copies of orders too recent to cancel. The taxonomy of affluent years has been abandoned: Romances jostle for space with Biographies, Business texts and Firearm catalogs. I found copies of Glenn Beck’s The Overton Window everywhere I went: Thrillers, Political, Literature, New Fiction, Science Fiction. Nothing essential or classic; everything brand new or badly dinged.
Books aside, everything in the store but the carpet was for sale. You could pick up three bookshelves for $99. Wire racks, plastic sleeves, CRT monitors, break room chairs and the syrup dispensers from the once packed cafe were all on the market. Someone had taken everything from the manager’s offices, given each its own plastic bag, and slapped a $1.00 price tag on each: used post-it notes, pencil cases, curly black plastic phone cords.
Two employees checked out a line of scavengers a dozen deep, including yours truly. A four-year-old knocked a bouncing rubber ball around with a poster tube. When it rolled away from him, I nudged it back in his direction with my foot. He lunged for it, toppling a small stack of Vampire Diaries puzzles, board games and sticker collections in the process. No one seemed in a hurry to clean it up. If I had opened a two-liter bottle of Coke and emptied it on the muted blue-green carpet of what was once the DVD section, would anyone have stopped me? Would anyone have cleaned it up? Were there mops?
Of the two employees behind the counter, one was an older gentleman with thick glasses that weren’t helping him with the screen. The other was a skinny young man with a bright red beard. He was explaining to a woman that he couldn’t promise that this atlas would still be there on Thursday, he couldn’t promise the doors would be open on Thursday, when a man in a uniform polo shirt with a cordless drill approached. “We just sold this shelf,” he said. “Can I take it apart and move it?”
The young man looked at the shelf behind the counter. A year ago it had been bursting with Harry Potter books and the newest loss leader merchandise. The contents and disposition of that shelf would have been dictated by the head office in Ann Arbor and passed down to local management as three-ring binders and stern emails (“FRONT SHELVES – REMINDER,” exclamation point, urgent). Now it held two copies of Rosetta Stone software (German and English), marked down 75%. “Umm,” the young man said. He thought for a moment, perhaps of a manager who no longer worked here, or the policy of an ancient store that had nothing in common with this wasteland but a name. The young man looked at the older man, then back at the contractor. Then he moved the two software boxes off the shelves. “Yeah, sure, go ahead.”