The Golden Age of Bookstores

Decline and Fall of BordersBack in the 1990s, a lot of book lovers bemoaned the death of the small, independent bookseller. They thought of the big chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble as the enemy. This was best exemplified in the 1998 romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail”. But to me, the Golden Age of Bookstores was just beginning.

Library Rat

As a kid, my mom used to take me to the library in Dupo, Illinois. It was a small little library, but they had a pretty good selection. I was an unusual kid, and my favorite part of the store was the reference section. Since you couldn’t check out the reference books, I spent a lot of time sitting in the reference aisle reading the encyclopedia. My sister, who was still reading picture books, hung out in the little kids’ section. But we both gained a strong love for reading and learning that we retain to this day.

Mall Bookstores

The archetypal “Mom and Pop” bookstores were long gone by the time I learned to read. This was the 1980s, and the mall was where it was at. I loved going to the mall as a kid, usually South County Center or the now-defunct Crestwood Plaza. I hated going clothes shopping with my mom and sister, but I put up with it so I could go to the mall bookstores, usually either B. Dalton’s or Waldenbooks. (To this day, I don’t remember any difference between the two.) I liked these bookstores because they had newer books than the library, and if I begged and pleaded hard enough, I could sometimes get my mom or dad to buy me something. To me, it was more fun than the toy store (though I also enjoyed that quite a bit.)

Big Box Bookstores

My family moved to Michigan in the early 1990s, and I upgraded to a bigger and badder library, one with several floors of books to peruse. Not long after, I discovered the Big Box bookstores. I don’t recall the first time I went to Barnes & Noble, but I quickly became enamored with the place. I also fell for a local Big Box store called Schuler Books. It has a cool combination of coffee and books that really drew me in, so I started spending a lot of time there in the big, comfy chairs. Both of these Big Boxes were in Okemos, several miles from my house, but I liked them enough to ride my bike there when I could, or beg my parents for a ride.

The Golden Age of Bookstores

The 1990s Big Box stores were quite small by modern standards, and soon both bookstores expanded their presence. Schuler Books opened a new location at Meridian Mall and Barnes & Nobles opened a two-story store in downtown East Lansing. A year or two after that, Schuler opened a location just north of Lansing, while Barnes & Nobles built a store at Lansing Mall. Now I had four stores to choose from in the Lansing area. And since I was an adult with a car by this point, I could drive out to other locations. My favorite “road trip” bookstores were the Barnes & Noble in Grand Rapids and the Borders in Ann Arbor. I spent a lot of Saturday nights at Schuler Books, probably more than a college-aged kid should have.

The Silver Age

For me, the Golden Age of Bookstores ended on February 3, 2006. That was the day that I moved from Michigan to American Samoa. I was shocked to discover that there were no bookstores on-island. There was a decent-sized library, but nowhere I could get a latte and chill. It was one of the things I missed most about living in Samoa, and as soon as I got back to the mainland, I drove my rental car to the Schuler Books in Lansing. I was ecstatic and overwhelmed. I simply didn’t know where to start. After 20 minutes, I had barely picked up a book. It was great to be back, but somehow, it just wasn’t the same.

Decline and Fall

Coming back to the mainland US, I got a new job and a new apartment. Such big life changes are expensive, so I didn’t have much money to spend on books. I didn’t have much time, either, as I had made friends and built a life for myself in Dallas, on that didn’t involve Saturday nights at the bookstore. And as sad as I am to admit this, I stopped reading so many books in general. After all, there’s a lot of stuff, good and bad, to read on the Internet. I think this is an important factor in the fall of the big bookstores. and e-readers have done a lot to chip away at Big Book, but I think that people also spend a lot more time reading blogs and websites nowadays. I know I do.


Borders went under in 2011. I was sad about the loss, but when I looked back, I realized that I hadn’t been a regular customer in several years. Ditto Barnes & Noble. In fact, at the surviving Big Box chain, there aren’t any more comfy chairs. There are more discount “remainder” books and sometimes even used book sections. And of course, there are e-readers (though those too have been a boondoggle for Barnes & Noble). At least there’s still coffee.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer, photographer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. April 29, 2014

    […] used to love self-help books. Throughout high school and college, I would go to the bookstore and peruse the self-help section. (I read other genres as well, but self-help books were my […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *