Reading in Boston | Globe Editorial

Borders leaves a vacuum

August 8, 2011

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THE CLOSING of the Borders Books location in a historic part of Boston once known as Newspaper Row presents an opportunity to preserve a part of the city’s heritage. For centuries before the chain opened on the corner of School and Washington streets in Downtown Crossing, the area had been associated with literary Boston: This is the same intersection where the dissident Anne Hutchinson lived in the 17th Century, where the Old Corner Bookstore opened in 1829, and where authors like Hawthorne, Emerson, Longfellow, and Thoreau often gathered at Ticknor and Fields Booksellers before the Civil War. Even as digital readers and e-books have thrown the publishing industry into tumult, it would be fitting if the Borders space is filled in a way that carries on that tradition.

As anyone who has tried to shop at Borders on a rainy afternoon knows, there is still ample demand for books. The store was one of the now-bankrupt chain’s most profitable locations, its 40,000 square feet often crammed with booklovers. And Boston remains a city of readers and writers, who have provided many examples of how public space can serve their needs even if it’s not filled with a bookstore. The Grub Street writing center, for instance, located on the other side of Boston Common, is a thriving literary community, with dozens of workshops each year, writing space, readings, and a national spring conference that draws hundreds of agents, publishers, and writers to downtown. The Boston Book Festival is a growing annual event. Sisters in Crime, a burgeoning Boston-based chapter of a national organization of female writers of murder mysteries, draws hundreds to its convention in a Boston suburb every fall.

Downtown Crossing has many clothing stores and coffee shops, and a few more anodyne offices won’t add much life to what should be a vital space. Mayor Menino and Boston Redevelopment Authority director Peter Meade should work with the Clarendon Group, the Dublin-based realty company that owns the Borders building, to ensure literary Boston keeps its toehold in downtown. The world of reading is too much a part of the city to be displaced completely.