Friday, January 2, 2009

In Memoriam -- A Cherished Friend of My Youth

I went to the website of my local paper this afternoon and gasped aloud when I saw the headline. The Waldenbooks at my local mall is closing at the end of this month. This leaves my town with no real bookstore outside of the ones located at the two local colleges (where the non-textbook inventory is relatively small) and the Christian bookstore that I think is still open. Now, people in my town will either have to be satisfied with the meager offerings at Wal-Mart, Target, or K-Mart (although I will say the selection at Target isn't horrific as long as you're looking for relatively mainstream bestseller type stuff) or cruising online. Don't get me wrong; I love as much as the next bookworm, but to me there's something almost religious about walking into a book store, inhaling that scent of paper, wondering at the countless possibilities contained on the shelves, and excited to dig in and find a new treasure. My sis often comments on the fact that when I walk into a bookstore, my hands start to itch from the excitement of being surrounded by so many books and eagerness to tackle the stacks. I love the feel of books. I love browsing the shelves, reading jacket covers, flipping through the book. It's heaven.

This closing, though, is even more bittersweet beside the closing of the town's only bookstore and the fact that it's yet another store to close in my economically drowning hometown. This store and I go way back. This store was one of the original tenants of the local mall when it opened in the mid-70's. My relationship with this store is longer than the one I have with my sis (who was born 2 years after the mall opened). When I was growing up, I spent many hours at this tiny little bookstore -- graduating from the picture book section to the young adult section to the front where all the grown-up books are. In my teens and even into my early 20's, I was a certified mallrat. Just about every Saturday of my youth was spent roaming the mall, and my journeys at the mall almost always began with a stop at Waldenbooks to check out the new releases, browse the magazines, and generally see what was out there. I almost always walked out with at least one book purchased.
Waldens is the last of my old mallrat haunts to abandon the local mall, which is on serious life support as more and more stores close due to the failing economy and a general lack of customers. (It's a vicious cycle here: people don't go to the mall because there are no stores left and there are no stores left because people don't go to the mall.) Gone are the McDonalds where I ate more Saturday lunches than I would care to admit, the Musicland where I built the music collection that defined my teens and 20's, the Spencer's where I bought cool stuff like my ceramic Beatles box, the Deb where my best friends from high school and I would spend hours trying on clothes, the movie theatre where I saw many of the films that defined my youth, and more.
And I admit my own guilt in all of this. As I grew older (and particularly when I returned to my hometown from my year spent living in Chicago), I realized how limited inventory was at Waldens, but the place held a soft spot in my heart. As more and more stores closed at the local mall, I found myself going to Waldenbooks less and less and purchasing more and more online since I was unable to find what I was looking for so many times when I did go to Waldens. But I always knew it was there if I needed it and now . . . . I guess it's true that you don't know what you have until it's gone. So long, my friend, and thank you for helping create the pretentious bookworm snob that I am.


Danielle Mari said...

How very sad. More and more brick and mortars are going the way of your Waldens.... I think it has a lot to do with the internet, as well. Lower overhead, not having to leave home (or even get dressed), virtually unlimited selection. And I am with you. There's nothing like a bookstore. And I canNOT leave without buying something. it's pathological.
I assume the Whack Shack is still alive and well? They sell "books" don't they? ;)

Mel said...

I think I've left a bookstore twice without buying -- one because I was mad because the specific book I'd gone looking for was not in stock and the other because I was Christmas shopping and couldn't find what I wanted and was working really hard NOT to buy any more for myself. (And I had already bought myself two books at Target right before hitting the mall)

Peter said...

How utterly sad.
A bookstore full of words cannot contain my sigh.
It's not just the event itself, it's that you have such fond memories, too.
anytime you're in Chicago and want to visit one of the bookstores, I'll be happy to take you (as if you needed my assistance!)

NICKI said...

Your description of the mall is eerie, for I know I grew up hundreds of miles away. But we had the SAME MALL (Though you forgot rummaging through the Woolworths bargain bin for nail polish and hair clips...)