I only renewed my Borders membership card last week at Wheelock Place.
There is something about that bookstore that, for me, trumps all the similarly large-scale ones across Singapore - whether it's Kinokuniya at Takashimaya, or Page One at Vivocity.
Almost every week, I would go there and willingly part with lots of cash for all sorts of items at the store - from books, to cards, magazines or gifts - even if I had not printed out the monthly coupon for '30 per cent off one full-priced book' which Borders regularly sends to its members via email.
I consider myself a bookshop aficionado, making a point to visit every single one that opens on this tiny island, analysing each one for its worth - location, content, layout, atmosphere - before deciding on the one I would regularly give my money too.
Perhaps it was because Borders at Wheelock afforded me the luxury of going into town, without actually having to be 'in' town (anything beyond Ion Orchard is too horrifyingly crowded for me) but for more than 13 years, from when I was just a teenager in my secondary school uniform to being a fully-employed contributing member of society now almost hitting the big 3-0, it was my favourite bookstore.
For awhile, with the advent of the iPad and iBooks, I embraced the digital e-books and my contribution to Borders' revenue dipped. But not long after, I was back after realising that nothing could ever replace holding a old good fashioned book, nor replace the entirely gratifying process that comes from spending long hours in a bookstore.
I even remember taking a photograph of a book when I was there a week ago which made me snort out loud, titled 'Why men marry some women and not others - how to increase your marriage potential by up to 60%'. Incredulous that anyone would buy such a book, I uploaded a picture of it on Facebook and my friends and I had several virtual laughs over it.
Sadly, I realise now that was my last photograph taken at Borders at Wheelock, and it was my last visit there. Ever.
If I knew it at that time, my photograph would not be of that book, it would perhaps be that of my favourite corner, near the travel section where I would spend endless hours being transported to exotic destinations, or of that familiar passageway, always buzzing with human traffic, where I would bump into many old friends, or meet up with current ones.
When news broke last week that Borders at Wheelock had shut for good due to a rental dispute with its landlord, Wheelock Properties, I felt robbed.
A friend of mine, Eugene, aptly summed it up when he wrote on Facebook that the store 'could have gone in appreciation of its customers and staff, instead of having the doors closed on them suddenly'. I mirrored his sense of loss.
It's all well and good that the Parkway Parade outlet is still operating as normal - but it is not the Borders at Wheelock store, nor does it have the same memories or history.
By right, if it was shutting, the Borders @ Wheelock store should have given its loyal customers more than a month's notice (the KTM railway had a year!), which would give us ample time to accept that this is the end of an era for many of us where Borders and Tower Records played a big part in our growing-up years.
It would have given us time to go to the store as much as we wanted, reminisce together with friends more than a decade's worth of memories, buy up all the books on our "to buy" list, and take all the photos we needed to preserve this era in our minds.
Instead, we woke up one day to find its shutters down, and then, only a few days later, its book shelves all emptied without warning. It was a sad backdrop to a bittersweet handwritten message by the Borders staff on a roughly 1 metre by 1 metre sign which it placed on its glass panels over the weekend.
'Dear Borders customers,
We've had a legendary run here at Wheelock Place. But sadly, all good things must come to an end.
For many of us, Borders holds a very special place in our hearts. Many of us spend hours idling by the shelves picking up our favourite books and reading our favourite lines over and over again.
Some walk through our shop for the familiarity and comfort it brings. Borders @ Wheelock has been a meeting point for many gatherings and may be even where you met the love of your life.
To us, the staff, it has been the most wonderful and enriching experience of a lifetime. We've made amazing friendships and and grown so much as people. Working at borders has been a privilege to us all.
With heartfelt sincerity, we would like to thank you, so very much, for your support throughout this entire journey, and seeing us through to the end.
Thank you for shopping at Borders.
- Staff at Borders Wheelock.
Ps. Remember to look after your books!'
Call me sentimental, but I felt a sad swelling from within when I read it. Whoever wrote that poetic note, must have truly understood 'that very special place' that many of its customers, like me, hold dear, and what we must feel on the sudden closure of the bookstore. It was a stab at an ending, a resolution, to the 'legendary run'.
Given the circumstances, it was as poignant an ending as it could have been.
But some question remain. Borders Singapore had said they were 'extremely disappointed' with the actions of Wheelock Properties given that Borders had been a long-standing tenant of more than 13 years.
It does not make sense to me that Wheelock Properties could not have exercised some flexibility as a goodwill gesture even if Borders did default on the rent of one payment. After such a long standing relationship, it seems cruel that the company should treat the bookstore - and by extension, its customers - with such hostility. Reports have it that a cashier’s order for the owed sum was subsequently handed over, but Wheelock Properties, having set legal action in motion, was 'unwilling to reverse its action'.
Setting legal action in motion over a few days of arrears look pretty harsh. Surely the management can see the value in preserving an iconic bookstore over that of a month's rent a few days overdue. If they do not, I blame their short-sightedness entirely for the demise of our much-loved bookstore.
If there are other circumstances surrounding its decision to cut off Borders so cruelly, Wheelock Properties should articulate it instead of declining comment to all reporters, and simply saying that the matter 'is with the lawyers'.
We deserve more than that.
Like many others, I have invested over 13 years worth of time and money into this store - which has gone beyond being just a shop to becoming an iconic space that Singapore society, in all its diversity, shared together.
These questions have to be answered, and only then, can I put away my Borders membership and now defunct gift cards away, and accept the fact that our beloved bookshop is now history.