Lately I’ve been finding myself feeling cranky more often than usual. Little irritations (pesky salespeople on the phone and in the store, disordered shelves at the end of the day, customers who want you to find a book for them without knowing the author or title) that I usually shrug off as not worth the energy it takes to get annoyed seem to rankle for a longer time. This vague sense of irritability was brought to my attention a few weeks ago as my husband and I were leaving a diner in Clifton, New Jersey where we eat frequently. The Tick Tock, well known to New Jersey diner aficionados, has an extensive menu, well prepared food, and extremely efficient service. The wait staff is polite, if not overly friendly, and seems to be in perpetual motion without ever a slip-up. On this particular evening, we had a waitress who was obviously new, not quite as efficient as the others, and made a few minor errors. Normally not a big deal. We were both irritated, probably because our expectations were so high from past experience, but didn’t say anything while in the diner. Once outside, we looked at each other and said at the same time, “Are we turning into cranky old people?”
I have always thought that people got cranky as they aged because they don’t have enough to do and become preoccupied with trivia. My problem is certainly not lack of interesting things to do. It may be having too much to do, and wondering why I am doing it. I am essentially an optimist, but I think the constant news reports about the demise of the printed book, the closing of book stores, and the lack of a reading public have been wearing me down. Customers I haven’t seen for a while greeting me with “Oh, you’re still here!” adds to the dismay. Am I swimming against the tide? Stubbornly defying reality? Becoming an anachronism?
Lynne started her post earlier this week by commenting that blog posts are a good way to put one’s thoughts on a particular topic in order. I decided that writing about the positive aspects of owning a book store might help both my thinking and my mood. (Cue Julie Andrews: “Raindrops on roses…”) So here are my thoughts on the best aspects of owning a book store.
1. Being your own boss. After having spent almost twenty years with a large corporation, where creativity and original thinking are given lip service, but following the rules is rewarded, I love not needing permission to try a new idea. Every working person answers to someone, and in my current situation it is the customers. Instead of trying to please the boss, I am able to try my own ideas of what will increase business. If I succeed or fail, I have only myself to praise or blame. Of course, I am probably the worst *** I ever worked for, and I put in more hours than I ever did in a corporate job, but I’ve never enjoyed a job more. And no office politics!
2. Meeting new people every day. Old friends and regular customers brighten the day, but there are also new faces just passing through or new to the area. Who knew Jonathan Miles (Dear American Airlines) just moved close by and brings his children to book stores? People love to chat with small business owners, and I learn about places, activities and viewpoints which would otherwise be unknown to me. I love to talk, but selling books has taught me to listen carefully, a skill I get to practice daily.
3. Helping customers choose books. The listening skill comes in handy here. It is really rewarding (and a little scary) to have repeat customers who ask for recommendations because they were pleased with past recommendations. A voracious reader this week was at a loss for choices; she likes Sandford’s Lucas Davenport, but doesn’t care for Harry Bosch and doesn’t like books about lawyers. That left out Michael Connelly. She likes books set in England as well as the U. S. As we went through authors whose entire output she has read, I said, “Of course, you’ve probably read all of Peter Robinson.” Amazingly, she had never heard of him and bought every one of his books! A little scary, because she may not like him, but rewarding in her faith in my judgment. There is a sense of accomplishment when a customer says, “I loved what you suggested last time. Any other recommendations?”
4. Managing all aspects of a business. I’ve written about being a jack-of-all-trades when owning a small business, but it really is more fun than functioning in only one department of a large enterprise. There is always something new to try in marketing, technology, or purchasing. Having to go beyond my comfort level, particularly with technology, is satisfying after the initial resistance and mutterings are over.
5. Reading. It’s great to be able to read books and book reviews as part of a job. Most people don’t get to curl up at home with a great book and call it “taking work home.”
6. Handling books all day. I’ve discussed my attachment to physical books in the past, so enough said.
7. Young readers. Despite all the doom and gloom about the book industry, there are a large number of children and young adults who love to read. Watching them choose books, point out their favorites to their friends, and wait anxiously for the next books by their favorite authors, I know that all is not lost.
8. Author visits. Mystery authors have fascinating stories to tell, and their visits to the store are a special treat. Despite the pre-event terror that the turnout will be small (What if I gave a party and nobody came?), the events themselves are a lot of fun. Hearing from attendees later that they really enjoyed meeting an author makes it all worthwhile.
9. Supportive customers. Hearing someone tell me that they’d rather buy a book from me than from XYZ discount store, or a larger book chain, or on-line makes the attention paid to individual customers worth the effort. Today is a beautiful spring day; when a customer commented on the weather, and I said I wished I didn’t have to be indoors, she said, “Well, I’m glad you’re here.” And actually, I’m glad too.
With all these lovely benefits, who could be cranky? Certainly not me. This job is keeping me young.