Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why I think we are gonna win...

and why I harp on customer service to my staff.

I bought a book today.

I have ADD. I had ADD when it was not cool to have ADD. My mind is a whirlwind of activity, always going, and sometimes things get lost in the shuffle. About 10 people, both friends here and ones I know only online, have recommended the book Getting Things Done. Of course, I have resisted this. Until last night, after dinner, when suddenly, it was time, and I was ready (ADD, what can I say). So, being a bookseller, I looked at all my online sources for used books, and found the best possible combination of price and shipping, got ready to type the credit card number, when I saw it would be Next week before I would get it. But I was ready NOW. (ADD)

I remember having seen the book at Wal-Mart in Millington. So, you guessed it, off I go to the land of the Mouth Breathers and Muscle Shirts in search of this book. It has now become a mission, nay, a quest. They, however, do not have the book. So I come home, dejected and bookless, and decide that tomorrow, I will get the book.

Fast Forward to about 10AM today.

I go the local Big Box store which shall remain nameless so they do not sue me. I notice they have 4 cash registers, 3 customers in line, and 1 cashier, with another employee lurking about behind the counter. So I dutifully get in line and wait my turn, to ask where I could find this book. I am in my own little world, until the guy in front of me is being "helped".

He wants a book a friend recommended, with a Panda on the front, called Shoots and Leaves, or something like that. The "bookseller" was clueless. As the correct title is Eats, Shoots and Leaves the "bookseller" was entering the wrong title in the database, and she was all confused (as my Maternal Grandmother would have said, "Bless her heart"). Now, this book was only on the bestseller list for about a damn year. It was talked about on NPR. Lynn Truss was on the Today Show. I could understand the customer being confused about the title, but no way in hell should any bookseller NOT know that book. So, being me, I walk up and say something like, "Excuse me. I believe the book you are looking for is titled Eats, Shoots & Leaves and is by Lynn Truss. It is probably located in the reference section, or, if not there, perhaps in the Language section". Bookseller gives me the evil eye, looks up the correct title, says that, surprise, surprise, they "should" have a copy in reference. Then, and I am not making this up, she goes into elaborate directions as to where the reference section is (go down this aisle, turn at the third aisle, look on the right in the third cabinet, alpha by author...) Even has a conference with the "lurker" behind the counter as to whether third case, or fourth. Never entered either of their minds to actually walk back with the customer, help him find the damn book, maybe interest him in the current book she has out, which is no doubt on the shelf next to it...nothing. Spent 3 or 4 minutes giving directions, at one point I thought she was going to draw him a map.

So now it is my turn to be "helped". Oh, goodie. After giving her the title and author, she says "We should have a copy". What? You should have a copy? Hell, lady, I should have six pack abs and perfect teeth, but that just ain't the way it is.

So I say, "do you in fact have a copy"?

"I think so", she says.

"Where", I say.

"If we have one, it would be in Business- Motivation", she says, hopefully. [I always liked Swifties]

"Where would that be", I ask.

I kid you not, she looked me dead in the eye and said, "In the business section".


So I plod off, looking inquisitive in the business section, looking for the sign that says Business-Motivation. There is no such sign. There are signs for SALES, signs for ENTREPRENEURSHIP, signs for PERSONAL FINANCE. No MOTIVATION. So, dumb me, I ask a "bookseller" walking by for help. She is at the end of the aisle. I ask her, and, without moving, she leans over, points halfway down the aisle, and says "It should be over there".


It was, and I bought it and a tall Mocha. At first glance, the book seems as if it will be helpful, and I am glad I got it (and the Mocha). But damn, if customer service that bad, how do they stay in business? I bet if you had surveyed the employees after those interactions, they would have thought they were being helpful.

I know a big box can not provide the same level of service we can at our store. I know they can not hire 25 employees and expect them to all be on top of what is out right now. I know they can not be expected to go beyond for every single customer. I know that is not the way it is. But, it is the way it should be.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Not much changes...

I recently found the following in an online collection from the works of George Orwell (he of 1984 fame). Apparently, he worked in a used bookshop as a younger man. The amazing thing is, some decades later, I can identify with everything he says. Spooky. The whole article can be found here.

When I worked in a second-hand bookshop--so easily pictured, if you
don't work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen
browse eternally among calf-bound folios--the thing that chiefly struck
me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally
interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew
a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than
lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks
were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents
for their nephews were commonest of all.

Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a
nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For
example, the dear old lady who 'wants a book for an invalid' (a very
common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice
book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately
she doesn't remember the title or the author's name or what the book was
about, but she does remember that it had a red cover. But apart from
these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand
bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old
breadcrusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries
to sell you worthless books. The other is the person who orders large
quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of
paying. In our shop we sold nothing on credit, but we would put books
aside, or order them if necessary, for people who arranged to fetch them
away later. Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came
back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would
come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise
over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to
return. But many of them, of course, were unmistakable paranoiacs. They
used to talk in a grandiose manner about themselves and tell the most
ingenious stories to explain how they had happened to come out of doors
without any money--stories which, in many cases, I am sure they
themselves believed. In a town like London there are always plenty of not
quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to
gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places
where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money. In
the end one gets to know these people almost at a glance. For all their
big talk there is something moth-eaten and aimless about them. Very
often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside
the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment
he had gone. None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away
without paying for them; merely to order them was enough--it gave them,
I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money.



Thursday, April 20, 2006


Sorry for the delay in posting, but life has been nuts the past week or so. In the last 8 days or so...

  • Our air conditioner for the Midtown Store was stolen.
  • We took possession of about 7,000 books for Downtown.
  • The family went camping and fishing over the weekend and caught no fish, but Max the Wonderdog (seen in the photo to the right) decided to eat a hook, so we had to perform a hookendectomy in the field.. (He has recovered and is back to his hyper, lovable self)
  • We have sold and shipped something like 70 books online
  • I had a plaster wall fall on my head, causing more dust than previously believed possible (from the wall, not my head).
So, it has been a bit nuts, but we progress toward the goal, our eye on the prize, cetera.

One of my favorite quotes about bookstores:

A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking. (Jerry Seinfeld)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hidden Treasure Found in Basement

We were downstairs working this week and were demolishing a partition that had to come down. It was made of this horrible fiberboard over 2x4 studs, so it fairly well came apart in our hands. Imagine our surprise when we found another wall beneath it!

Early in the building's history, it was a bank (a Leader Federal, actually). Apparently, we found the wall to an office that dated back to the bank era. It is a deep, rich cherry finish with paneling to the waist and glass above that, to about 8 feet or so. We had planned to tear the old wall down completely, but this is just too beautiful to destroy. So, now we have to configure the floorspace in such a way to integrate it.

I will post pictures later.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Mailing list info

We recently sent out an email to all those on our list about the presence of our little blog, and we had a huge spike in lookers that day, and it has been significant since then. If you want to get on our (very) occasional email list, to find out about events at the shop (either Midtown or Downtown), book signings, parties, sales, cetera, just go here to sign up. Of course, we would never share your information with anyone.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Bloggin' pressure

The other day, someone told me they look at the blog everyday.



Actually, there are some days there just is nothing to report. I knocked down a wall the other day, and it only fell on my leg, and not my head, so I guess that is something to be proud of. Yesterday, I negotiated for the printing of the lighted sign to go up outside and was told the business cards will be ready in a few days.

Our humble little blog got mentioned in the Destination Downtown Newsletter. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. Not much, but any buzz is better than none, right?

Actually, though, a lot is on hold till after Easter, sort of a bottleneck, if you will. Meanwhile, we are still selling books in Midtown and on the Net, and still buying them faster than we can deal with them...

And still bloggin...


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Peanut Story

I was talking to a bookseller earlier tonight about the blog, and she approves. Then she mentioned a piece I wrote a few months back and had posted to a forum I frequent. It is about childhood, and memories, and holding on to both. I beg your indulgence, as I am going to post it here. It concerns Downtown, so I think it to be appropriate.

I grew up on a small farm, about seventy five miles from Memphis, with my parents, brothers, and my maternal grandmother. She was an elegant, genteel lady, who lost her husband while still in her 40's. Due primarily to her upbringing, she had never learned to drive a car, and had not needed to until after his death. So, when she did learn (in her 40's) she was a very cautious driver.

She was of a generation who did their serious shopping "“downtown". This was before the rise of the suburbs and the shopping mall. However, not liking to drive, this posed a problem for her. In her typical, elegant fashion, she solved it.

It was late in my fourth year that she decided she needed to go downtown. She waited until my parents went to work, and then she loaded me into the car. We set off for the big city, driving at a stately 40 miles an hour (her top speed) up the highway, until we arrived at the Treasury department store at the city limits, where we parked the car and got on the bus going downtown. For a four year old, this was a blur of excitement, and while I have expressed it as narrative, it was, from my perspective, a series of images. My parents leaving, the covert piling in the car, the long drive on HWY 78.

I remember virtually nothing about the bus ride, except the colors everywhere. My existence till then had been primarily one of green in the summer and brown in the winter, but my, the cars and people everywhere. And the noise.

Downtown, I remember her death grip on my hand and walking through the department stores, the smell of the perfume counter. But, and thus the title of this long missive, the thing I remember the most clearly about the day was the Planters Peanut vendor on Main Street. It was actually a store, wedged into a space not much bigger than a shoebox, with a peanut roaster in the window and a real, live, Mr. Peanut on the street outside, trying to draw people into the store. I remember him shaking my hand, and my grandmother buying a bag of hot roasted peanuts. It is not difficult at all for me to smell the peanuts, to see the steam coming off them in the cool air, to feel the comforting warmth in my hands.

The only other thing I remember about the day was her telling me that the day was a secret, and we were NOT to tell my parents about it. I never did. That was in the winter, and she died in the spring. Her sister, my maternal Aunt, told my parents after the funeral. But I never said a thing. It was our own adventure, and my last memory of her that does not involve a hospital. For years, I kept the peanut bag, with the dark stains coming through from the peanut oil, in my box of memories, until in one of the many moves while in the Marine Corps, I lost the box. But if I close my eyes and let myself, I still have the peanuts.


Thanks for reminding me, Michele.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


I am a technophobe. I don't want to be, but I am. Donna ( aka she who must be obeyed) is decidedly not. We recently wanted a load of sand for the yard. I was looking for the yellow pages, she had already googled and had a list of 5 suspects. For Sand.

So, imagine my surprise when I started googlin' myself and searched for bookshops in Memphis and saw my poor little blog, just sitting there in the search results. And via various wizardry with different sites, searches, cetera ( there may have been chicken bones waved about, for all I know) I was told that 17 different sites link to this blog. For something that has had no promotion (until this week, more info on that in a bit) I think that is not bad at all. So, if you linked to us, Thank You.

We have had little flyers made up that give the web address for the blog and say DOWNTOWN BOOKS IS COMING. Richard has a bunch at the Tobacco Bowl if you want to get some and stick them on you bulletin board at work, church, to slip in your lover's purse when they are not looking (that is what I do with the phone bill), be creative. We really do need your help to spread the word about the new bookstore and what we are trying to accomplish.



Downtown Books will carry magazines! This is something I have resisted, quite honestly. I prefer long, lengthy tomes to quick soundbites, but in my walks about the community, over and over I have been asked. It seems that with the passing of World News a while back, downtowners are missing their magazines. Yes, I know Tower Records has a large selection, but what if you want a magazine without directions for getting your tongue pierced? I rest my case.