Remember New Year’s Resolutions? Here we are three months later. What happened? I’m not one for making a long list of ways to improve myself; I’m old enough to know I’m hopeless, and everyone will just have to take me (or not) just the way I am. But I do try to set some goals for things I would like to do. Usually these are as successful as the “lose weight,” “exercise more,” etc. items I gave up on years ago; in other words, I get to April and wonder why things haven’t changed much.
Last fall, I began to realize that my shop needed a major rearrangement. When I bought the shop in 1999, it was small used book store (or “Book Swap” as they were called then). I have expanded, first adding shelving, then starting to carry new books that seemed to be in demand, then taking over the shop next door and creating a mystery book shop. More and more new books have been added, and with the closing of the local Borders making me the only shop in a ten-mile radius, the new book business has become the larger portion of the sales. This shifting of focus has been done somewhat piecemeal, and the layout of sections and shelves is really inadequate for what the business is now. Oh, there are plenty of shelves; but it’s really time to get the used historical romance inventory away from the front of the shop, to make space for all those new young adult books.
Only a librarian or another bookseller can appreciate the enormity of the task of moving thousands of volumes from side to side, front to back. First, you have to clear the target space; where do those books go? Well, that space needs clearing first. So the first step is the second. Then the problem of where to move the books from the new “step one.” A few hours of planning the rearrangement leads to a need for coffee, chocolate, and a good crime novel.
Adding to the conundrum of the order of shifting sections is the fact that I am a hoarder. Cathy Genna’s post last week reminded me of this fact; my house seems to resemble hers, but may be worse because I am lacking in vast numbers of e-books or readers. My books are all paper, but they are everywhere. I can get away with this at home, despite occasional marital discord, because they are mostly “to be read.” Stacks of books on the floor or in cartons at my shop are not the attractive displays that persuade customers to buy. Despite what seems like a constant culling of my used book inventory, donating regularly to library books sales and the nearby women’s prison, there is a “work area” in my shop, closed off to customers, which is overflowing with volumes I’ve had a hard time parting with. No space on the display shelves, but someday I may run short – or the reader for that one special item will show up. And as the new book area grows, the “saved” used book area is at fire-hazard capacity. In addition, the number of used books actually in the selling area needs to be cut back to make more space for the new volumes.
So the plan, last December, was to use the months of January and February, when the shop is open five days a week instead of the normal seven, and business is slow, to get the rearranging and discarding done at last. Like most optimistic plans for the new year, it didn’t happen. January was dedicated to business tax filings and catching up on regular paperwork postponed by the Christmas rush. There was terrible cold and snow, making hauling cartons of books to temporary storage unappealing. February was a vacation, and catching up again, and more lousy weather. Mostly, the enormity of the task kept me from starting.
At some point, we all run out of excuses, and fate, or nature, or the perversity of mechanical things, forces our hand. Ironically, March 1 was the date that a broken water pipe above the shop created just what I needed: empty shelves and easy decisions about discarding books.
March 1 was a Sunday, and as usual I was in northern New Jersey at the church where my husband is rector. It snowed (again), and the normal one hour trip home took 2 ½ hours. When we walked in the door at 5 PM, I just wanted to relax. The phone was ringing – Dani, my assistant, from the store. She wanted to tell me about a “small leak” in the mystery book shop, that she had put a bucket beneath it, and that she had called our contractor, who fixes everything. A bit later, a call from the contractor – could my husband come over? He needed a little help. Two hours later, my curiosity got the best of me and I called to ask what was happening. I was told, “Don’t come over. You don’t want to see this.” Not exactly comforting, but I did as asked (besides, I hate to drive in snow).
What I learned later that evening was that the leak had turned to a flood. What I saw Monday morning was piles of books all over the floor, free-standing shelves moved far from their normal locations, wall-mounted shelves empty, and vast amounts of wet carpeting.
As Dani and I started to clean up, I realized I had a lot to be grateful for. The previous Sunday, the shop would have been closed, and no one would have seen the leak. Had Dani’s father not been involved in a project and delayed picking her up, she would have closed early because of the weather. Either way, the water would have poured out all night. We discovered that most of the books were dry; Ken, our contractor, and my husband had worked furiously to move as much as possible away from the water. We did have to discard a few hundred books, mostly used, but the expensive stuff was saved. Now we just had to put things to rights (after the carpet dried).
But wait! The question of which shelves to empty to begin the reorganization had been answered. There was a justification for piles of books on the floor. We put them in some order, and explained to very sympathetic customers why things were a bit in disarray. And we began the long overdue rearrangement.
We’ve been at it for a month now. Things are falling into place. The “flood” was distressing, but I find it more emotionally taxing to decide which books must go. I have been firm with myself, however. As each section is restored, the corresponding volumes in the “work area” are brought out and shelved or discarded. The library book sale at the end of April will have its largest donation by far from me. I even find myself culling the piles at home, facing the fact that I am not going to live long enough to read everything I have piled up, and bringing books to the shop to sell or donate. If I can stay in this mode for a while, I may start on my closets!