It was incredibly sad, at least for me, when Borders announced that they were going under.

This might seem somewhat ironic, or at least hypocritical, coming from an urban planner of my bent.  In countless papers and debates, I’ve argued (along with many of my colleagues) against the influx of big-box stores into our cities and communities.  No question that when a larger store comes into the picture, it edges out the smaller ones.  When stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble came into the picture, and began spreading out across the country, it definitely became an uphill climb for local bookstores.  As smaller, local stores slowly closed their doors as business went to where the books were cheap and flowed with abundance, we planners and community advocates shook our fists and whined to our city councils.

However, now that a store like Borders is closed, and Blockbuster is slimming down incredibly, I’ve looked back at my patterns of movement and patronage, and realized the big loss involved here.  Sure, I’d rather go to a local book store than a big box one; the same goes for renting movies, and buying coffee.  But in today’s globalized economy, where we expect all the options to be laid out before us, those might be the best we can get, at least for a time.

What it comes down to is WHY these stores are forced to close:  the rage of internet shopping.

I have so many happy memories of running out to Blockbuster with my friends, whether it was at the beginning of a sleepover, all us gals in our PJs, or the beginning of a long night of movie marathons with the fam.  The same goes for Borders- often, after going out for dinner, my family would stop by the local Borders and browse books for an hour or so, usually buying a least a couple.

It simply isn’t the same when you’re downloading a movie onto your laptop, or ordering a book online.  There is really something to be said for the tactile experience of picking up books and flipping through them, feeling the weight of the words you could be enjoying at home.  Whether is was to relax, browse the clearance section, or feed my need for new literature, going to the bookstore, no matter what size it was or who owned it, was a treat.  Same goes for renting movies.

The loss of these store to the internet business is just one more way our internet-obessed society is staying more introverted and home-ridden than ever before.  Since when did kids need to be reminded to go out and play?  How many people have you casually talked to about the latest Stephen King novel, or which comedy flick they’d recommend?  Those casual conversations, the bumping of shoulders with anyone and everyone, obviously doesn’t happen on the internet, where the comments flow like angry rivers because not being face to face, no one is accountable for what they say or do.

I realize its a stretch to call Borders and Blockbuster a third place- and thats not quite what I’m arguing for anyway.  But the lack of these familiar businesses in my neighborhood definitely has resulted in a loss for my community.  Having those physical places to go, interact, and shop is vitally important to the health of a neighborhood.

On the other hand, I’m visiting my local library a lot more.  But thats a story for another day.