If you haven't figured it out yet, I grew up in Macon and a lot of my choices in life and my disposition have been formed in rebellion against that experience. There were aspects of Macon that I liked. It was relatively safe. Our synogogue was a warm, familial place. The Macon Mall was a nice space to kill a couple hours. Stratford Academy did a good job of preparing me academically for bigger challenges. All that said, I found the mentality of the place (and especially the social scene at my high school) to be backwards.
Macon's attitude was visible in a number of different respects - the local paper, the political scene, etc. - but the one that stands out in my memory is the fact that the only options for buying books in Macon were B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks at the Mall. For a metro area of around 250,000, this was something of a problem. To me, it signaled a place where people simply were not interested in ideas. For an adolescent with a burgeoning interest in World War II, this was a source of major frustration.
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, the oasis in this desert was Oxford Books in Atlanta. In contrast to the options available in Macon, Oxford Books seemed like a university unto itself, a huge store in the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center where I could get lost for hours. For me, a perfect summer weekend was going with my family to Atlanta, staying in a hotel, taking in a Braves game, eating dinner at Mick's, and spending an afternoon at Oxford Books. When I left Macon for college in 1993, my plan was to go to Michigan, then law school, then come to Atlanta to become a lawyer. Oxford Books helped to form my perception of Atlanta as a place where I would want to spend my professional life.
Likewise, my decision to go to Michigan was formed, at least in some small part, by spending the summer before my junior year of high school in Ann Arbor for debate camp (like band camp, only nerdier). Ann Arbor was exactly what I had imagined a college town to be and a major reason was the original Borders, located at the intersection of Liberty and State Streets. (The conservatives on campus joked that Liberty ends at State.) Borders was like Oxford Books, only with two levels instead of one and instead of having to drive eighty miles to see rows of shelves, I could walk from my dorm whenever I wanted to do so. In the same way that Oxford Books helped form my impression of Atlanta, Borders helped form my impression of Ann Arbor.*
* - It also helped that I didn't get into Dartmouth. My impression of Hanover, New Hampshire was formed when my Dad asked a random passer-by on the street for hotel options and the passer-by used the word "panoply" in response.
That's a long introduction for me to say that I heartily co-sign on John U. Bacon's post on his feelings regarding Borders' passing. As someone who believes that a love of reading is one of the most important values that a parent can instill in a child, it seems clear to me that a great bookstore makes its community better. It gives an outlet for readers to browse and then to learn about subjects that might have never crossed their minds before. As such, a proper bookstore is tool for self-improvement. (Now I sound like a Whig.) Without them, the world is a little darker.
I had a similar experience to Bacon in my last visit to the Borders on Ponce. I lived in the neighborhood for six years before Mrs. B&B and I started procreating and even now, it's not far from our house. Being a geek, I bought my groomsmen books on a Friday night at that Borders and had a great time scouring the shelves to find something that spoke to seven different personalities. I bought my first history of the Eastern Front - Alan Clark's Barbarossa - there and devoured the book on flights while the future Mrs. B&B and I were dating long distance. When we had kids, the children's area of the store quickly became one of our boys' favorite places (although our youngest is more interested in the toys and Mrs. B&B isn't always amused when I say "can I just go check out one book really quickly?" and then disappear for 15 minutes). Walking out the doors one final time was an emotional event. It's great to live in a world where a 12-year old in Macon can now order any book under the sun online at a reasonable price and have it arrive at his doorstep within a matter of days, but we're also losing something when the experience of aimlessly flipping through titles before picking out a tome on a previously-unconsidered subject becomes rarer and rarer.