I’ve been reading my way through the comments at Dear Author, where the current topic is how indie bookstores have contributed to their poor health or demise by blatant disrespect to their bread-and-butter customers. Where in the world is it good business to sneer at customers who come in regularly, spend substantial sums, and ask only that what they want be in stock? My heart breaks for every romance reader who’s felt the need to turn the books face down at the register or cringed under a clerk’s assessment of her reading choices. Note to bricks and mortar stores everywhere: online booksellers don’t shame the customers, no matter what they’re buying.
My own formerly favorite bookstore managed to destroy my enjoyment of the shopping experience there. And I *loved* this bookstore, or more accurately, I loved the proprietor. Let’s call her Becky.
Tucked away in a tiny storefront in a strip mall, this bookstore was presided over by a cheerful, book-loving gal who made a point of remembering my name. If I brought a book or two or three to the counter, she’d beam, and say, “You might like this one too.” Nine times out of ten, I bought it, and yes, I loved it. “I’m in the mood for *fill in the genre or mood*” and she’d hand me something I might not have picked up on my own.
If I came in for a book on a specific subject, she might or might not have it, but if it came through, she’d call me. She handsold her books like nobody’s business–I seldom left without spending at least $50, and hit three digits more than once. In a used bookstore. Most of the reference books that went into Donal agus Jimmy came to me through Becky’s hands.
If she didn’t have it (I’m thinking of fiction for my sons’ classes, where the city had been cleaned out two hours before either of them informed me of the need), she’d find it. “Set it back for Pam,” she told her cross-town colleagues more than once. “She’s on her way.” How else do you pay a bookseller back for that, except by buying more books?
She took an interest in my writing, and offered ideas for events and sales that would have benefited us both. I didn’t have paper books then, but I had a date for my release. Did I want to do a reading, and maybe bring in another local author or two, make an event of it?
One day I walked in, and Becky wasn’t there. She wasn’t coming back, apparently, and the parting must have been messy, judging from the new clerk’s reaction. Snide comments about her, her ways of doing business, her knowledge. No, he didn’t have the book I wanted, and threw up his hands at the idea of maybe checking in the back. I was the only one in the store at the moment: would it have killed him to look?
Apparently so. For the first time since this bookstore opened, I left with empty hands.
And I haven’t been back. They probably have something I want, or something I need. Something I’d enjoy. I’ve eaten lunch in the Chinese restaurant next door, and *looks around guiltily* tapped into their internet over the wonton soup. But I haven’t gone in and I’ve bought my books elsewhere.
All because I was made to feel ashamed of liking the bookseller. She’s in another city hundreds of miles away, and I’d buy my books wherever she’s working were it feasible. I don’t know who had the right of it in this parting of the ways, but I know that I, as the customer, should not have been exposed to the seamy underside of the business.
And I miss Becky with my whole book-buying self.