Today we of the civilized world enjoy unique wealth more precious than gold—our wealth of accumulated knowledge in printed form,” writes Frances Rogers in his 1960 book Painted Rock to Printed Page: The Story of Writing and Printing. My copy is a ruddy little hardcover—still in its tattered sleeve—riddled with age spots and emitting a musk that makes my eyes itch. Still, I treasure it and will bury my nose in the bloom of its binding nonetheless (you have to peer extra close when allergic eyes swell shut).
Because whether newly inked or time-worn, books have an unmistakable aroma—like rain on asphalt, sex and candy or fresh-cut grass. And like sharks in chummed-up water, the heady smell alone can send bibliophilic folk (like me) into a frenzy.
My obsession began at the Kahului Public Library, with mom. I’d leave with my toddler arms and chin stretched around the tallest pile of take-home reads I could muster. And every night I fell asleep with the lights on (and still do). Soon, I was assuming the same position at rummage sales and thrift stores, and before I knew it I was a book hoarder.
For those who are likewise afflicted—and even to those who are casual readers (I have one friend who says he only ever reads when in jail)—last week’s announcement that Borders is closing its Dairy Road location by the end of May came as a sad shock.
Nearly $1.3 billion in debt, on February 16, 2011 Borders Group, Inc. announced it had filed for reorganization relief under Chapter 11. The company received court approval for a store reduction program, and plans to close 30 percent of their locations nationwide.
On Twitter, @mauilibrarian2 wrote to me, “Borders closing isn’t all about buying books. [It’s] sad because we’re losing a vibrant PLACE that serves as a barometer of who we are and what we value.” It’s a kind and true sentiment that can be said of any hub of knowledge in the heart of a town, corporate or no. Yet people seem to be lamenting the store’s impending closure as if its the end of book-selling on Maui altogether. To the contrary—there are still lots of places to buy books (other than the Internet).
Borders Express remains open at the Queen Kaahumanu Center and, of course, there’s the Gaussian glow of the big, new Barnes and Noble in Lahaina. But nearly every grocery store, touristy one-stop and museum gift shop has a small selection of titles, too—everything from trashy poolside reads to area guides to local lit for keiki, plus genre-specific selections at certain stores. Looking for a do-it-yourselfer how-to? Head to Lowes or Home Depot. History buff? The Bailey House Museum offers 10 percent off for members. New Age ideas tickle your fancy? Green Lotus or Lotus Heart Book & Gift Shop will guide your way. Hedging your bets by getting healthy? Down to Earth, Mana Foods and Whole Foods can help you out. And, for religious devotees, there are shops like Lilies of the Field Catholic Bookshop and Kihei Christian Bookstore.
And as for used books (in addition to local thrift stores) there are two—very special—bibliomaniac enablers on-isle: the Maui Friends of the Library (MFOL) behind the old Puunene School near the sugar mill, and JoAnn Carrol’s Old Lahaina Book Emporium, nestled in a sweet little alley off Front Street.
“Part boneyard for titles with osteoporosis-ridden spines, part monument to the infinite potential of Gutenberg’s invention, the place is one of Maui’s quintessential hidden gems,” wrote MauiTime’s Kate Bradshaw, in a July 2009 feature about the Puunene institution. The MFOL says their “qualified estimate is in excess of 180,000 books to choose from” and they charge just a dime per book (other than a few rare titles, which are still moderately priced).
Meanwhile Carrol’s shop seems ripped from my REM, with leaning, laden shelves creating a labyrinth I wouldn’t mind getting lost in. Carrol says her clientele runs the gamut, from regulars to visiting collectors and enthusiasts. Her prices are always a smidgen lower than the Internet average, and range from $1-1,000. Her vintage Hawaiiana collection is robust, and I found Max Freedom Long’s The Secret Science Behind Miracles, a book about kahuna magic, which I’d long been searching for.
Though Borders is technically competition, Carrol says that the store’s closing won’t do her any good (the two West side express locations at the Lahaina Cannery Mall and Whalers Village recently closed, too). She says used book shops like hers thrive off the flow of those who are “eager to grab the new releases, but don’t keep them.” Ultimately, she predicts, books will become obsolete entirely, with the big push toward e-books and portable readers like the Kindle.
So maybe Borders mourners are right. Perhaps this marks the beginning of a new chapter—not just the end of book selling on Maui, but book selling period. I like to think books—and bookshops—will survive. Because when I look into my crystal ball, all I see is my reflection. The reflection of a book lover who may read a lot online, but who will never relinquish reveling in the tangible page. Even if just for the smell.
For an expansive list of places to buy books on Maui — with address, contact info and hours of operation — visit http://mauivents.com/headline/borders-dairy-road-closing-bookstores-on-maui/