When I was a little girl from the provinces, my favourite part of a trip to Auckland was the obligatory trek to Borders on Queen Street. Down in the basement there was a whole floor almost entirely dedicated to kids’ books. From The Babysitters’ Club to The Princess Diaries to Tomorrow When The War Began, I could find pretty much any book I desired.
I bought my fourth Harry Potter book there (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), standing in a line that wound its way down three [Harry Potter-themes] floors. I eventually graduated to the young adult fiction, and then to the adult fiction (each with their own departments). I whiled away hours of my teens in the music department, browsing through CDs, sheet music and books about my heroes.
Then suddenly, it closed.
In the age of online shopping, no one needed big one-stop-shop bookstores anymore.
Whitcoulls soon followed suit, closing its flagship Queen Street store, and leaving Auckland without a major book retailer. Though I was a Borders girl through-and-through, I mourned the loss of the Queen Street Whitcoulls. It felt like a door had closed on a beloved childhood memory. No longer would I loiter on the floor in an inconspicuous corner with a stack of books at my feet, reading a chapter of each and deciding which to buy this time, and which to come back for.
The upside is that the independents are flourishing – and I love visiting them all. Unity, Arcadia, the Women’s Bookstore, and the rest are precious jewels that we mustn’t lose. But my heart still hankers for a big old mainstream bookstore.
So when I found a Barnes & Noble still mercifully open in Honolulu, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was on the small side – just one floor – but it still had a music section. It sold vinyl and CDs… those archaic round things that provided the soundtrack to my youth. It had a full kids’ section, and row after row of adult fiction. It even had a Starbucks, because America.
A bookstore that was big enough to house a café. I felt myself becoming emotional as I watched the booklovers lining up for their S’mores Frappuccinos.
I was on the hunt for a certain book (Shrill by Lindy West) and they had it. I bought books by Gloria Steinem and Carl Jung. I bought a David Bowie record. I felt like I’d been transported back to the late 90s, and I loved it.
I know that the kind of consumerist yearning I have for a big chain retailer is something I should keep very quiet, but I can’t help it. I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want Unity AND I want Borders. When it comes to bookstores, I want to go back to 2002.
As I walked out of the Honolulu Barnes & Noble I looked wistfully over my shoulder. It felt like saying farewell to an old friend. I hope, against the odds, that we will meet again.