Tag Archives: retail

What We CAN Do.

The other day, in my bookstore, we had a small child who was dropped off by her caregivers.  This was a child who was definitely not old enough to be spending hours in a retail store, by herself.  I won’t go into detail, to protect her, but suffice it to say that the authorities had to be called and it was very painful for all involved.

I was having a lot of trouble moving past the incident, since the little girl involved was the same age as my own youngest daughter.  A little boy, who with his parents is a very frequent customer, asked me about the incident the next day.   He asked me many questions about the incident, some of which he had witnessed, including why someone would do that, would leave a child by themselves in a store.

My discussion with him and eventual answer  brought a coworker to the verge of tears, and helped me as well.  Here is the gist of the answer I gave him:

“Sadly, not everyone is a nice person.  Some people do bad things, and we have no control over that.   We can’t change how other people act, we can only control how we act.  So what we can do is try to be good people, be nice people, and when we see someone in trouble, we can help them.”


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Ode to a bookstore

I had a customer tell me she loved me.  I had a customer tell me that we had the best customer service she had ever seen.  I had a customer throw a temper tantrum because I wouldn’t sell her store supplies.  I had a customer yell “this is contributing to the pussification of our children!”  I’m not sure how to spell pussification.  Someone who believed that the earth had stopped spinning.  A senior who had decided to dive back into the world after her husband’s death, starting with taking every free class she could find.  Attempted fraud and adults sitting on tiny, tiny furniture.  Dancing in the aisles and impromptu singalongs.  Shouting, laughter.  Food.  Lots, and lots, and lots of caffeine.

Oh bookstore, I love you.


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Filed under Books, General Awesomeness, Retail

Retail Christmas

This is for all my retail peeps who are experiencing the joy that only comes at Christmas time, and all you other guys can enjoy it too.

Merry Christmas!


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The Philosophy of Shoplifting?

We get a fair amount of shoplifting in my bookstore.  Some of it is expected (One Direction books).   Some of it is weird.

Magazines tend to disappear.  Books on sex are pocketed, usually by teenagers who you don’t even need an alarm for because they’re glowing bright red.

The people who shoplift the most often, though, is… little old ladies.  Usually really innocuous looking, except for the pile of books they’re trying to sneak through the far exit.  And it’s always “Gee, I just forgot to pay for these.  For the fourth time this hour.  Forget my own head, next.”

What I love is the righteous indignation that many of them display, like the fact that they try to steal more in merchandise than they weigh is no good reason for security to be keeping an eye on them.  “Are you following me?  Why is security staring at me?”  Yes.  Because you try to shoplift from us at least weekly.  Duh.

After a while, it makes me want to glue down anything pocket sized.  Although people have tried to leave with an entire shelf’s worth of books before, so hey, maybe just glue it all down.

Small children are actually really bad – they will just fill the entire leg of their pants with whatever will fit in there.   And when you point out that their pants are making siren noises, they just take it all out, wait for you to leave, and then start all over again.

The McThuggets mostly pretend to be tough, and talk (in the children’s section) at the top of their lungs about threatening other students, and how tough they are, while busily inserting as many swear words as possible.  Shoplifting wouldn’t work for them because no one would see them being criminal, unless they got caught, at which point they’d be in big trouble with their mom.

You know what our most shoplifted section is?  Guess.  Not teen.  Not little gifts.

Philosophy.  Yep, that’s right, more people steal books from the philosophy section than anywhere else.  Maybe they feel that the knowledge belongs to everyone (someone tried to justify taking a Bible with that reasoning).  Ok, maybe the knowledge belongs to everyone, but the paper, ink, and cover have to be paid for.  Feel free to walk away with the ideas.

Someone explain this to me.  Who are the culprits, and is there some kind of black-market philosophy ring out there?

Psst.  Wanna buy some… Aristotle?



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Romance…Why the Shame?

I’ve noticed a weird phenomenon with women buying romance novels.  There are a lot of excuses. “I started reading them in high school, and I can’t stop.”  “They’re for my mom, really.”  “I don’t usually buy this sort of thing…”  “I just need a little break from Tolstoy.”  “I know they’re not exactly literature.”

It sounds more like teenage boys buying an issue of Playboy.  The wording of the excuses, obviously, differs (at least I hope it does), but the tone doesn’t.  In fact, people buying erotica aren’t as shamefaced as some of these ladies.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading romance.  Some of the authors are very talented as writers, if in no other way than the ability to deliver what the reader wants, time after time.  If it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, like indulging in Godiva truffles, that’s fine, but why act like they’ve been caught drinking vodka straight from the bottle?

To me, one of the reasons reading is wonderful is that it can create so many different experiences.  Not every book you read has to be “literature”, and you don’t have to like all the literature either.  I, for one, despise Joyce’s Ulysses .   Also, if you want a light read, a story with a happy ending, what basically amounts to an adult fairy tale, that’s romance.  They can be formulaic, sure – but most fairy tales, both romance and adventure, are.

The original definition of romantic meant knights, adventure, true love, duels, etc.  The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers are romance.  The Princess Bride is romance. Robin Hood, Canterbury Tales, stories of Arthur and Camelot, all classic romance.  Somehow, though, even though modern romance novels contain many of the same elements of heroes, villains, derring-do, true love, reconciliation, and happy ending, they are sneered at as being “fluff”.

Well, I like fluff.  I sometimes like a story where I know it’s going to work out ok.  Sometimes there is enough tragedy and politics and brutality in real life, and it’s nice to, for a while, live in a world where you know the hero or heroine will always save the day, the couple will always kiss and make up, and the bad guy will get what’s coming to him/her.   And the lovemaking never fails to be spectacular.  Every time.  Hey, it’s fantasy, right?

Romance and adventure novels (and many combine both elements) are, for me, the book equivalent of comfort food.  In fact, if I can read them while eating comfort food, that’s even better.   Ladies (and gentlemen, of whom I see even fewer buying romance), there is no shame in buying romance.

Reading Harlequin is not a crime.    It’s ok to have a bodice ripper next to Kafka.  Keep in mind that Shakespeare was the Michael Crichton of his time.   Or perhaps Steven Spielberg.

Bring your romance novels to the counter proudly, knowing that you’re going to have way more fun than the people in line who are only reading a book to impress their friends and colleagues.

Later, we can sit around, eating chips (from the bag), and drinking beer (from the bottle), and having a fabulous time.   Maybe we can convince those other guys to join us.



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Boycott of Archie Comics Over Gay Marriage

archieArchie Comics has put out an issue that features a gay wedding, involving a regular character who is openly gay.  To me, this is cause for celebration.  To One Million Moms, a conservative group, this practically signals the end times.  They are threatening Toys ‘R Us with a boycott, if the chain doesn’t pull the issue from its shelves.

This is not the first time that the organization has threatened a retailer  with a boycott because of their views on homosexuality – the group recently tried to get Ellen DeGeneres fired from her position as spokesperson for JC Penney – unsuccessfully.

I feel the actions of the organization (as well as the related organization, One Million Dads) are wrong for a variety a reasons.  What my primary issue is with them is their efforts at censorship.  They don’t want anything about gay people in print.  They don’t want anything about gay people in advertising.  Or on tv.    Now, in either the JC Penney campaign or the Archie comic, it’s not like there is any sexual content.  I’m pretty confident that the JC Penney campaign doesn’t feature Ellen DeGeneres saying “Shop at JC Penney.  And I’m gay”.

In my view, having kids see or read about gay people, just living normal lives, is probably the best way for them to grow up free of that kind of hatred.  And I point out that rights and freedoms go both ways: Just as people have the right to believe that being gay is wrong, other people have the right to believe that being gay is just fine.

To me, what should be kept out of toy stores is hate.  Judgement.  That is what doesn’t belong around children.  There is a children’s book which is one I frequently recommended at work called My Princess Boy, by Cheryl Kilodavis.  It is a (non-fiction) story about a little boy who likes to dress up like a princess.  The whole point of the story is acceptance, and loving someone for who they are, not what you think they should be.  That is what we should be teaching our children, and that is a lesson that should be true in every aspect of our lives.  Ideally, we’re making our children better people than we are.  (For more about My Princess Boy, visit http://myprincessboy.com/index.asp )

I finish with a  quote from Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater:

“We stand by Life with Archie #16. As I’ve said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It’s an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday.

“We’re sorry the American Family Association/OneMillionMoms.com feels so negatively about our product, but they have every right to their opinion, just like we have the right to stand by ours. Kevin Keller will forever be a part of Riverdale, and he will live a happy, long life free of prejudice, hate and narrow-minded people.”



Filed under Books, Bookstore, Review

Bookstore Confessional

Working at a bookstore, I have heard personal details of the lives of many strangers.  Small details are unavoidable, because they are looking for a book on grieving, or how to handle an unfaithful spouse.  Some customers, however, will pour out their heartaches, problems, battles.

On my very first day, there was a young woman looking for baby care books.  Having two children myself, we got into a spirited discussion of the merits of various books, and I left her looking through a stack of them.  The next time I passed by, she waved me over, and asked if I could help her find another book.  She was looking for a book on mending relationships, since three scant months before the baby was due, her boyfriend had decided that he really didn’t want a commitment right now.  I had some serious trouble not pointing out to her the book on how to get rid of *&$@%!%$#&@$$.  I also got her some tissues, and a glass of water.  Poor thing.

I had a man tell me the complete details of his battle with depression, and his hope that the book he was purchasing might finally help him win it.

On one particularly memorable occasion, I was concerned about a woman who seemed to be in a lot of pain.  She waved me off, saying that it would pass… and then telling me that truthfully, she wished she was dead.  This, as you can imagine, didn’t reassure, me, and I lingered, debating whether I should take further action.  She then spoke curtly to me, telling me to go away, and she didn’t need anyone hovering, and making her feel self-conscious.   I refrained from telling her that if she didn’t want people to worry, she shouldn’t tell them she wanted to die – obviously she was in great pain, and didn’t want pity, so I left her alone, wishing I could have helped somehow.

I also get to be the first to hear good news occasionally.  Women buying books on pregnancy, who haven’t told anyone yet because it’s very early.  Men looking for ideas on the best way to propose.   A man who returned his books and do-it-yourself guides on divorce, because they had worked things out.  One woman, in her mid-fifties, who looked like the stereotype of the prim spinster librarian, who was picking up a copy of the Kama Sutra for her new boyfriend.

I sometimes wonder why  the impulse to share is there.  Is it sometimes easier to talk to a stranger?  Is it just a sympathetic ear at the right moment?  Perhaps it’s just that with so many people coming through the store, one or two are bound to want to talk?

In any case, the people in the bookstore often have stories just as fascinating as the books themselves.

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Retail Hostility

The other day, a homeless man came in to the bookstore where I work.  He settled in to a chair, and started looking through the shelves.  I asked if I could help him find something, and he said yes, he was trying to figure out ways to make his diet healthier while homeless, since it was really hard for him to have a balanced meal.   We went through a few book ideas, and found a couple of possibilities.

He thanked me.  And then thanked me again.  For not pretending he was invisible, or escorting him from the store.  For treating him like a human being.  He said our store was always great, letting him get cleaned up in the washroom, letting him stay as long as he wanted.   He told me that he used to be a teacher, but circumstances had left him homeless.   He was so happy, just because someone had been willing to have a conversation with him, treat him like a person.

He made my day.

And then there was the couple who came in, having issues with their e-reader.  The return date had passed, with us, and it was now under manufacturer’s warranty.  I offered to try to help them solve the issue, but they refused.   They yelled about customer support at the e-reader company.  They yelled at me, yelled at my manager.  There was swearing.  Everything we tried to say, they talked over.  Apparently they were having an issue with their treadmill,  that was our fault too.  We were thieves, it was a conspiracy.  We were horrible people who were knowingly selling bad products.

They ruined my day.

The contrast between these two encounters is ridiculous.  The homeless man was the soul of courtesy.  The well-off couple were horrible.   Why do people feel they can treat retail workers like dirt?  I can’t imagine someone behaving this way at a bank, but maybe they’re horrible there, too.   I’m not sure what lesson to take from all this.   If my kids behaved like that couple did, they would be in deep, deep trouble.

With other customers, I have taken hours to try to help them with issues they’ve been having with their e-readers, or to teach them how to use them.  I like helping people.  That couple, though, I will not exactly be going out of my way to help.  I’m guessing if I told them that, it would just be one more reason to shout at me.

Obviously, courtesy and respect are not tied to your bank balance.   The upstanding citizen?  The homeless man.

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