The Banality of My Own Evil

AKA – How I helped kill the bookstore through depraved indifference

chimp feet3I’m going to take a guess and say our local Borders bookstore occupied its spot for about 18 years. Perhaps it was more like 20 years or as few as 15. Anyway, Borders always appealed to me more than Barnes and Noble because it seemed less corporate. Inside and out, it lacked B&N’s architectural finesse and refinement of design. It was a bunch of tall shelves full of books with no particular sense of order. They cared more about books and less about coffee shops. It felt authentic.

They offered obscure titles, too, as if they were a cool bookstore in the city rather than a boring one in the suburbs.

So was it two years ago they closed? Three? It’s hard to say for sure, since we all saw it coming for ages. This much I recall: Who didn’t feel bummed out when it finally happened?

Whenever a big store closes, some are sad, but we are also intrigued by what might replace it. In the case of my local Borders, they put in a DSW, which, if you are unfamiliar, is basically a warehouse store for shoes.

Are you kidding? They took away our bookstore and replaced it with a shoe store? How boring. Row after row after row of shoes on display with the boxes crammed right underneath, self-serve style. I’d bet that a single DSW has the combined inventory of an entire shopping mall’s worth of shoe stores and then some.


Thing is, I have chimpanzee feet. Thanks to a dreadful experiment conducted by a mad scientist named Dr. Moreau, I was changed from one primate species to another… except the equipment malfunctioned before the transformation was complete.

[I’ll let you guess whether I changed from human to chimp or chimp to human]

Because I am burdened with chimpanzee feet, my shoe options are rather limited. I needed new shoes for the office and a pair of trail hikers for the summer. To find those items in size 8.5, quadruple wide, I pretty much had to hit up DSW.

Saturday, I entered the retail space that formerly housed tens of thousands of books and walked out with two pairs of shoes in size 8.5, 4E.

Standing there on the sidewalk in front of the store, the transaction from moments earlier replayed in my mind: The cashier scanning the bar codes and telling me the total, me handing over my Visa card, the cashier swiping it, me signing the little screen with the rubber pen, and the cashier giving me a receipt and a shopping bag.

I waited for a car to pass then crossed the lane to the parking lot, disturbed by the realization I had just spent more money at DSW in 2 minutes than I had at Borders in 18 years.


chimp feet





22 responses to “The Banality of My Own Evil

  • fictionalpenguin

    I must confess I would often go to Barnes & Noble over Borders, especially after one was built closer to my home. That being said, I mostly just enjoy being in close proximity to a number of books; the other details aren’t as important. I’m still guilty of ordering some books from *gasp* the internet, but I still find myself meandering around bookstores for far longer than I care to admit.

    Also, I can’t help but commiserate with you on the shoe issue. My feet, you see, were designed with the intention of being able to dam up rivers, and so I’m stuck looking for size twelve or, depending on the brand, thirteen shoes. I clearly should have considered Clown College as an option as at least I’d have access to appropriately-sized footwear.

    As always, you’ve provided something delightful to read.

    • ericjbaker

      Hmmm, looks like we are at opposite ends of the foot spectrum, yet our problems are the same. Ah, to be a size 10 narrow.

      I am totally guilty of ordering books from the internet. Not only do I buy books on Amazon, I also sell them. I’m the devil… with tiny, wide feet.

  • nrhatch

    Oh, my darling
    Oh, my darling
    Oh, my darling Clementine
    Herring boxes
    Without topses
    Sandals were for Clementine

    Oh, shit, this mike was on?!
    Damn. I need to be more careful with that snark button. 😎

    Moving on.
    Glad you got your shoes.

    I don’t like shopping for shoes. Or handbags. Or man purses. So a place like DSW was perfect when I practiced law.

    I would go in, find a low heeled pump in a plain style that fit and then buy it in Navy, Black, Gray, Beige, and Tan.

    I wouldn’t shop for shoes again until the heels were nubs.

    When I need a book fix, I wander around the library. I rarely go to B&N or Borders any more because I find buying books irresistible. If there is a book that I. Must. Have. I’m happy to order it from Amazon rather than going to a bookstore and being tempted to buy 20 other books. PLUS books don’t have to be tried on for size like shoes.

    • ericjbaker

      I didn’t know you had such a lovely singing voice!

      I’m sure, if I had an unlimited budget, that impulse buying at B&N would be fun. But the sad truth is, Amazon is minimum 40% cheaper, and sometimes more like 90% cheaper. I get a lot of books on Amazon. I’m a tiny cog in the wheel of modern, souless commerce.

      I’d enjoy shoe shopping more if more than 5% of the selection came in my size.

      • nrhatch

        Most of the impulse buys were from the sales section. I never bought hardbacks at anywhere near full price.

        I’ve sung in a few weddings . . . but never a standard like Darling Clementine.

  • Kevin Brennan

    What a wake-up call. And yet, not buying shoes at DSW won’t bring Borders back. And yet, we need shoes. And yet Amazon is pure evil. And yet you can buy shoes there. And yet books aren’t even all that physical anymore and don’t entirely need a store in order to be sold. And yet.

    There used to be a great Borders in San Francisco, just up from Union Square, where I bought gobs of books (and CDs, remember them?), and it too is now gone. Unlike you, I haven’t kept track of my shoe costs over the years. It would be too sad… (not that I buy tons of shoes).

    • ericjbaker

      You just hit on the theme of my WiP. Sort of. Fewer shoes and more death, though.

      I have nothing against DSW. When I win Dancing with the Stars, I’ll gladly shill for them on TV commercials. I just haven’t been to this DSW, because this one used to be Borders, where I spent a fair amount of time not buying anything.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    I’m happy you found shoes for your freakishly wide feet, Eric. I hate shopping for shoes.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    Yet another instance in which you and I are opposite: I have very narrow feet, and often struggle to find rugged footwear (e.g. runners, hiking boots) that accommodate this (it’s less of a problem with dress shoes, which tend to fit tight anyway). We do, however, have the same size feet lengthwise: I take size 10/11 women’s, which is 8.5 men’s.

    We have/had neither Borders nor B&N in Canada, our main chain bookstore being Chapters-Indigo (they used to be two separate companies, but then the former bought out the latter). To my knowledge, Chapters isn’t in danger of closing anytime soon.

  • Dave

    One, it’s sad but true that I never go to our one remaining bookstore (Barnes and Nobel). Two, I miss roaming around and checking out all the books, but all my reading now takes place on my Kindle. Three, I think chimp -> human.

    • ericjbaker

      That’s just it. I wandered around Borders many times, but I rarely walked out with a shopping bag. Maybe if books we’re $25 most of the time. Amazon is a better business model, even if it’s morally questionable.

      Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a hankering for bananas.

  • livelytwist

    I love bookstores, love flipping through pages and reading blurbs. Haven’t been to one in a while. I love shoes stores, love gazing, gasping, and trying until I find a pair that fits. Haven’t been to one in a while. Am I guilty of indifference or a life with crammed shelves? Sigh!

    • ericjbaker

      I don’t get too “Ohh” and “Ahh” in most shoe stores, but I’m fascinated with hiking boots for some reason. I don’t wear them anymore because they cut off the circulation and restrict range of motion, but I still like the look and feel of them. Maybe I should just open a hiking boot store to indulge my fetish.

  • 1WriteWay

    OMG, Eric, that’s exactly what happened here! We had a Borders that we frequented often (coffee and cookie and then browsing with an infrequent book or CD purchase). We have B&N but it doesn’t have music or movies, just books and magazines (oh, the shame of B&N). Borders was the go-to place to meet friends and just hang out and talk and drink coffee (but, ah, very little book buying). Then we heard of stores closing. We were assured that our Borders would not close. Then it did. And then … DSW. I still have not gone into DSW. One of my friends said we are now “Readers Without Borders.” So now we go to B&N for our coffee and cookie and we buy books we don’t have time to read because we are so afraid of losing it. In this backwater, poor excuse for a capitol with two universities, B&N is our last major bookstore. After that, it’s the comic book shop and a used paperback store. Slim pickings.

    • ericjbaker

      Good grief. We just got back from Barnes and Noble, where I bought two books for me and two books for my kid. I know I could have gotten mine cheaper on Amazon (my son is leaving on a long trip tomorrow and needed some new books), but I felt like I should throw my pebble in the ocean. Eerie parallel, no?

      Our used paperback store closed last year. There’s still Labyrinth in Princeton, where I’ve never bought anything. I should probably.

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