READERS' PICK: Forget for a minute the specter of big chains swallowing up little mom-and-pop independents. That's already happened, and it happened, at least in the realm of books, because readers wanted to be able to walk into a store with a massive stock, find a title without having to wait for weeks for a special order to come in, and find a CD and a cup of coffee and maybe even a new friend while they were at it. The critics said that free enterprise would die in the bargain if the people had their way -- and, they said, literature would be killed by the same blow. Well, literature keeps on keeping on, chains or no chains, and since when has enterprise been free in this country? In any event, there was a time, years and years ago, when Borders was a little independent bookstore in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, staffed by wild-haired poets and radical philosophers. Over the years, Borders grew up to be a nationwide chain numbering hundreds of stores; and while some of those poets and philosophers grew up to be land rapists and day traders, others grew up to be bookstore executives committed to offering a stock of books of high quality and wide variety. Their vision endures: Borders offers a huge range of titles, out-of-town and international newspapers and magazines, and a good selection of CDs, cassettes and videotapes. With an attached café and lots of comfortable couches and easy chairs scattered around the store, there's every incentive to kick off your shoes and spend a day roaming the stacks, browsing and buying.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 5130 E. Broadway Blvd.; 7325 N. Cholla Blvd.