At my end of the business, we're down to the brass tacks, the nuts and bolts, i.e., the actual sale. Selling ANYTHING isn't easy and since our store carries both new and used items (in our case, books), some customers, of course, look first at the used book shelf before they look to the new ones. Our local customers often come to us ONLY for used books (or to trade their old books in) - I actually had a woman ask last week if the new Donna Leon hardcover in the window was used! It's only been available for a few weeks and Donna Leon on the used shelf is fairly scarce, not to mention new hardcovers. I guess in a way I should appreciate her faith in us, that we'd be able to FIND a used Donna Leon so soon out the gate.
We have another "customer" who initially I enjoyed talking to (many years ago). He travels quite a bit and is a retired executive who sent all his children to good private colleges. But the man is a complete cheapskate. He often regales us with stories about books he bought in Canada or England or California but if I show him the book he's looking for on the new shelf he'll say that "He can't find anything today" since it's not used. Often this is a book by a popular author that's just available. He likes Peter Robinson, another author we have trouble keeping in stock used, and that's who he usually is looking for. Our employee, who enjoys people's travel stories and often remembers either what illness they have had or where they've been but not necessarily what book they bought held on far longer than we did. But maybe a year or so ago when I called him at the end of a Sunday to see how the day had gone he had finally broken. He'd had a slow day, this man has come in and talked his ear off, and not bought a thing. Our employee, Marty, is a total sweetie but even he has his limits.
I have another "customer" - one who is in our book club, and who comes to signings - who never buys anything. She gets her books at the library. Now she may have no money, she doesn't talk about travel, etc. so perhaps I shouldn't begrudge her her interst in book club and in our events, but I was running an event at the library recently with the help of my sister (NOT a bookseller) and my sister practically wanted to chase her down and give her a talking to. I had to stop her!
But I guess what I really wanted to write about are the people who ARE good customers. I had, for example, a very nice couple in last week, very obviously stretching their dollars, but they were delighted by our true crime section, our dollar cart, and even our normal used book shelf. We had a nice discussion about Ann Rule and her general greatness as they were leaving and they indicated that they'd be back soon. In their case, I'll be delighted.
We haggle every day over price with obviously wealthy lawyers who work downtown - don't you have it used? they'll say - so I'm puzzled that some of the folks who spend the most money with us, and who are the smartest (and we operate in a university town), are postal employees. One guy comes in every few weeks and I have a hard time keeping up with his sophisticated and varied reading tastes; and I'm always delighted when I find a new author for him to try. I recently introduced him to both Megan Abbott and Theresa Schwegel, a double coup. My regular post "lady" is an avid reader and is very particular about good prose; and my favorite postal employee, Mitchell Bartoy, is a gifted writer wth two fine, very dark books to his credit (THE DEVIL'S OWN RAG DOLL and THE DEVIL'S ONLY FRIEND). Mitch doesn't have a publisher at the moment but not only is he a great writer, he's a really smart (and nice)guy.
There are obviously plenty of lawyers and professors in town who do like to read mysteries and are happy to pay for them - the very nice lady who runs an interior design shop next door to us whill buy a hardcover any old time - it's just that the vagaries of human nature are astonishing on a sometimes daily basis. I guess that's why I like bookselling so much - it's always a surprise on some level. The question is whether the day will be filled with good surprises or bad ones!