CLEARWATER — The Borders looked solid for years.
Rooted in behemoth Clearwater Mall beside a Super Target and Panera, it oozed with middle class. The cafe was full most afternoons, people sipping Seattle's Best lattes and nibbling scones while they wrote the great American novel. Students sat for tutoring. Husbands and wives read books across from each other in silence.
Then, the life ran out.
Borders was born in 1971 in Ann Arbor, Mich. It grew along with Barnes and Noble, putting small booksellers out of business until the misfortune came back like a boomerang. In February, Borders announced it would kill 200 stores and reorganize. Business missteps, the bad economy and changes in how we read doomed stores in Brandon, South Tampa, North Tampa and Clearwater. Only the St. Petersburg store would survive.
The four stores began a slow liquidating process, reaching the end this week. Wednesday, Clearwater was last to go.
Most people don't mourn for corporate giants, or they don't admit it. It's not becoming to root for Goliath. But they do rush to watch the battle.
The store is sleepy, still well-stocked.
Books are 30 and 40 percent off. You can't buy coffee anymore, unless it's in a multi-pound bag. Cafe tables hold shelves and lamps and jugs of sticky flavor syrup. A ladder costs $125. You can buy a dishwasher or a water softener.
Signs on empty shelves urge shoppers to join the enhanced Borders Rewards program to save an extra 10 percent off their books.
Not Without Hope by Tampa boat accident survivor Nick Schuyler sits alone in the section devoted to inspiration.
The Harlequins are ripe, and women pluck them when no one is looking. The Nanny and the CEO by Rebecca Winters, Double-Edged Detective by Mallory Kane.
Dummies still have choices. Quality Control for Dummies. Presentations for Dummies. House Selling for Dummies.
Consumer Behavior for Dummies.
A wall is empty except for two signs.
STORE CLOSING. And eREADERS FOR EVERY BUDGET.
The eReaders, employees say, were among the first things to go.
The front doors say: IF YOU DON'T BUY IT TODAY, THERE'S A GOOD CHANCE IT WILL BE GONE TOMORROW.
You can buy The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere.
Chuck Norris Vs. Mr. T.
American Cheerleader magazine.
Business books are 60 percent off. Among them, Richard A. Posner's A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of '08 and the Descent Into Depression.
A TRON: Legacy 3-D book is defective. Harry Potter y la Orden del Fenix is available only in Spanish.
Church leader Paula White tells us Dare to Dream. But Gail Blanke tells us Throw Out Fifty Things.
Mike Taylor, who is here from New Jersey, has bought a book called Fist Pump, an ode to Jersey Shore antics. He paid $2. His friend Jeff Rodriguez has bought Black's Law Dictionary for $7.92. Taylor thinks his buddy just wants to sound smart.
"You know what the joke is?" says Taylor, 34.
"What?" says Rodriguez, 28.
"They filed for Chapter 11."
"Get it? Chapters."
All books are 99 cents. The walls are ripped apart, crusted with glue where shelves once stood.
There are 10 copies of Fist Pump. Fifteen copies of Sarah Palin's America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag. Sixteen copies of Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward.
There is one copy of The Chaos Scenario by Bob Garfield. Amid the ruins of mass media, it says, the choice for business is stark. Listen or perish.
Tammy Zazeckie, 50, buys several large bookshelves and carts of plastic placards. She homeschools six kids in Palm Harbor, and when a bookstore closes they come.
"We have a library upstairs," she says. "Thousands of books."
The employees look tired. One has worn his maroon mortarboard and gown, because he is graduating from Borders.
"Today is our final day of business," the loudspeaker says. "We're wiping down for the last hours of sales. Thank you for shopping with Borders."
The store closes at 4 p.m., but guests loiter. Workers stack leftover books and CDs and magazines in the center, along with some maps of Kansas and Japan and Pasco County. They take down the signs that say one day left.
Outside, a woman peers through the window. It's too late.