Category Archives: small town USA
I hope you’re doing well. I’ve heard so much about you. I read Wendy’s book, and I look at all the kitty pictures that you post to Facebook. I love cats, and you seem to be full of them, so we should get along fine.
I just wanted say hello, because I’m going to be staying with you for a while. I know you might be feeling a bit of apprehension about Jack and Wendy leaving for a whole month. I understand. I would be feeling a little apprehensive too if I was a bookstore and I was going to be left in the who-knows-if-they’re-capable-or-not hands of a complete stranger. You might be thinking, does this individual know anything at all about running a bookstore? Can she tell the difference between a trade paperback and a mass market? Can she alphabetize? What’s her favorite book? Does she have a favorite book!? DOES SHE EVEN READ!?!? Well, I’m writing to assure you that I know what I’m doing. Really.
I’ve worked in two bookstores over the years, and not a single book has been harmed or mangled under my watch. Because of my excellent customer service skills, I’ve never had to tackle a single shoplifter, and every book signing I’ve ever planned has been well attended. Well, there have technically been attendees present at every book signing I’ve ever planned. Two count, right?
As for animal care, no problems there. I’ve had the same cat since I was thirteen. His official name is Picasso, but we just call him Kitty. Whenever I sit on the sofa, he sits next to me, and stares intently at my neck. I get the feeling he’s thinking about the last bath I gave him, but I’m hoping it’s just because he likes me a whole lot. We do have a special bond. He let’s me brush him each day for a whole minute and a half before he bites me with his only remaining tooth. I’m pretty sure it’s a love bite.
See? Everything’s going to be just fine.
Your Humble Shopsitter,
Little Bookstore is one of several on a list of second-hand bookslingers who trade ideas and share knowledge–including that there’s such a thing as being TOO local. People can take the approach that you must be in this small town because you couldn’t make it in the big city; I’ve just come back from an economic summit where rural town managers discussed this problem.
Being too local is a problem anytime of year, but at Christmas, people can also eschew specialty businesses because they believe making a mad dash through the discount warehouses will be “cheaper and more convenient.”
(Yeah, and the shortcut is always faster….)
Small Business Saturday and the Christmas season tend to be a special challenge for bookstores because much of our unique charm lies in our handselling technique; a proprietor knows his or her customers, and has developed a relationship of trust, of not trying to just sell, sell, sell but to match. We take pride in matching the correct book to the right person. Trust is the foundation of customer service, trying to help the customer rather than meet an imposed quota.
Everybody sells books at Christmas, but who can greet you by name, ask how your niece liked Divergent, suggest a new detective series because they know you like mysteries themed around food? Or, who can meet you for the first time, listen to a list of the last five books your dad read and what he thought of them, and then suggest the perfect present based on that information? How much time will you save with that kind of service?
That’s what we do, and what our friends in the bookselling business do. Because we are our businesses; we don’t just work for them. We believe in selling you what you want, not what you’ve been told you need. And we believe you are your own person.
Visit your local bookseller this holiday season–be it Paperback Book Exhange in Neenah, Wisconsin; Al’s Books out in Kansas; maybe that sweet little Country Bookshop in North Carolina; or one of the other 2,500-or-so used book shops across America. The coffee will be hot, the chairs comfy, the kittens purring, and the proprietors ready to listen, serve, and smile.
Published in 2006, Free Gift with Purchase: my improbable career in magazines and makeup sat on our shelves in the shop awhile. One day I picked it up, realized it was a memoir that had been misfiled in fiction, and headed across the shop floor. But I opened it and read a random section–
–and started laughing. I don’t wear make-up, or move in fashionista circles, but the book drew me in. The fun of reading is living someone else’s life for awhile.
Godfrey has a wicked sense of humor, balanced by a strong grounding in the fact that her life is about something halfway between silly and essential. I loved her opening explanation establishing why beauty is important–war zones doing a roaring trade in black market cosmetics, e.g.–and that everyone has some sort of beauty regime, whether it involves “product” or not. She seems to have a healthy respect for the the American consumer, pointing out that about half of “advice” is really “sales pitch” and it’s up to the purchaser to discern the difference.
Then she just starts telling stories, interspersed with advice. Most of the advice sailed over my head, but I devoured her funny, wise stories, like how networks (and careers) are formed and lost by a single ill-timed giggle. How those glam parties full of celebs are really the trading floor, everyone working hard without daring to sweat into silk OR admit they’re working. (If you look like you’re networking, you’re doing it wrong.) How you need to know yourself before you let anyone at a makeup counter touch you, or you wind up looking like a man in drag, and the woman behind the counter may revel in this because you didn’t buy anything.
This isn’t a cohesive story with a narrative arc, and I liked it for that reason, dipping in of an evening to relax before bed. This is a sweet, alluring book, with a little more depth than expected, if one comes to it with a healthy disrespect for the lines between which Godfrey-June colors. Underneath her writing runs a sense of “we’re not curing cancer, but we’ve made women with cancer feel better by giving them prettiness.”
Spots of name-dropping and elbow-rubbing with the insider crowd decorate her prose (like glitter in eye shadow? teehee) but aren’t the focus. Those with journalism backgrounds might particularly like the “vapid meets intensity” moments when people who write for a living have to come up with something meaningful to say about perfume that doesn’t involve “sweet” or “fruity.”
Not setting the world on fire, but adding a bit of color, this fun, cheerful book.
When things get a bit fraught around the bookstore, such as when yet another unexpected litter of kittens appears, or we discover a leak under the water heater (Chef Kelley joke there) I only have to think back a few years to put it all into perspective.
Years ago I was an apprentice painter and decorator in my Dad’s business. Being the boss’s son, I was usually the one to be called on to do the particularly mucky or scary jobs–such as painting the drain pipe running from top to bottom of the bell tower on an old church in Kinross–full height of the pipe about 50 feet, starting more than 200 feet off the ground. On its way down the pipe passed about a foot away from the louvers where the sound of the bells issued.
The trickiest job was of course put off until it was the last thing left, so finally it just had to be done. We assembled our longest three-part wooden ladder with ropes and pulleys that weighed a ton, only to discover it didn’t even reach the bottom of the aforementioned louvers. Nothing daunted, we lashed an extra length of ladder onto the three-parter and that did just get to those pesky sound emitters.
Feeling a little nervous I looked to my two older workmates and realized they were making no moves towards the ladder(s). Sizing up the situation my Dad put his foot on the first rung getting set to put everyone to shame. “Hang on,” I said (after all he was approaching retirement). “I’ll do it.”
So, up I went until the ladder bent in so far, hardly and room remained for my toes against the wall. Still couldn’t reach the whole pipe. Down I came and tied the brush to a length of scrap wood and ascended once more. That got the pipe painted from the ground to about 1/3 of the way up, past the bottom of the louvers.
Pondering on how we’d get the rest done I followed my Dad as he entered the tower and climbed up the stairway until we emerged on the roof, carrying the paint pot and the brush still attached to the scrap wood. We managed the middle next to those blasted louvers; I put my arm out of the nearest opening to the pipe (which I couldn’t see from inside) while my colleagues shouted instructions from the ground – “left a bit, right a bit, up a bit, down a bit.”
That still left the top of the pipe, just below the battlements. I looked over at my dad. He was looking at me in a speculative way, rubbing his chin. A horrible thought struck me….
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found myself shortly afterwards dangling upside down outside the tower between two battlements with my Dad holding my ankles while I stretched as far as I could with the extended brush.
Once you’ve been suspended upside down 50 feet off the ground by your ankles, there’s not much that happens in a bookstore that can faze you. I remind myself of this as I play with our new foster kittens.
Epilogue: Years later Wendy and I were visiting my elderly Mum and sharing stories about my by-then- deceased Dad. I was certain she would never have known about the Church tower, but I had hardy started when she began chuckling. “I knew about that before you got home, Son. Don’t think I didn’t speak to your father about it, either!” Her chuckle erupted into laughter. Let that be a lesson to you; don’t think your Momma don’t know!