As a long-time employee and devotee of indie bookshops, I view the closing of the Borders stores here with mixed feelings.
Borders, which started out as an Ann Arbor, Mich., indie, grew into a massive chain; one that arrived on the Milwaukee scene after Barnes & Noble brought the predatory chain mentality to town.
Folks may or may not recall that B&N targeted the Schwartz Bookshops when it arrived, opening just down from the Brookfield location and trying -- yet failing -- to open in the Fox Bay Theater, directly across the street from another Schwartz. I remember it well because I was there in the thick of it.
There was fear that Barnes and Noble would put Schwartz to the brink -- long before the local shops, founded in 1927, actually closed -- and that later, the huge new Borders shops would push it over the edge.
But that didn't happen. Owner David Schwartz was savvy enough to remind Milwaukee how much the shops his father founded and his mother helped run played a role in the community and even bolstered that role with the extremely successful Schwartz Gives Back program.
Folks shopping at Schwartz knew nearly every penny they spent was staying in Milwaukee in wages, rents, taxes and even profits, should there happen to be any with the slim margins of the deep discount era.
In the end, while Amazon and the chains weakened the structure of Schwartz they didn't shutter them, as was the case in many, many other cities.
Now, there are still indies -- including two that sprouted from the roots of Schwartz -- and they satisfy many area booklovers.
But the chains have their fans, too, and especially once Schwartz went away, they offer the only expansive, general interest bookshops in some parts of town. And while I'd prefer you spend your money at People's Books or Boswell Book Company or Next Chapter Bookshop or The Little Red Book or the other independents, I don't really want the chains to go away.
Anyone that knows me knows I love the smell of books, the feel of them, the look of them. And I love bookshops. I'm not ready for the ebook quite yet.
I'm not ready for books and reading to become an entirely solitary pursuit, conducted by mail, consumed alone, feeling only the warmth of the video display on my fingertips. How will my favorite author sign my ebook when I meet him, most likely at an indie?
When I last was in Chicago, I saw that the huge Borders across from the Water Tower was closing and that shocked me, even though I know it shouldn't have.
The loss of the three Borders shops concerns me even more in Milwaukee. This is especially true Downtown, where another huge retail space will now sit empty, with perhaps an abandoned chair or bookshelf -- a broom leaning there -- and maybe a discarded Random House carton across the room as the only reminder that once ideas were traded here.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.