24 March 2010

It's Customer Appreciation Day

Since we spoke last week I’ve suddenly gotten old enough to enroll in Medicare. I now qualify for discounts on BART and Muni and half off my groceries, why not? I even managed this week finally to join the American Association of Altogether Ancient People (AAAAP).

This somewhat disconcerting plod to the grave is alleviated by the certain knowledge that some good things in life, mainly books and reading, will continue their march long after we drop away.

Two very strong essays appeared this week, both written by booksellers dedicated to their trade, their craft.

The newsletter Shelf Awareness reprinted a tribute to bookstore customers which had first appeared in the newsletter of Eagle Harbor Book Company on Bainbridge Island in Washington. It was written by Ann Combs. She is talking to you:

“As we continue to celebrate the 40th  Anniversary of Eagle Harbor Books, we would be remiss if we didn't mention the fact that one of the best things about working here is our customers: the small children who march into the store and know exactly where they are going even when a visiting grandparent doesn't, the people who patiently follow us around the store as we search for a book the computer assures us is available.

“We delight in customers who come to us for recommendations when they are about to go on a trip, or need a birthday present for a son-in-law and are particularly pleased when they come back later to report that our suggestion was a big success.

“We appreciate the customers who understand when a book takes longer to order and bring into the store than expected. We're grateful to those of you who tell us that you may check on the availability of a book on Amazon but ‘I come here to buy it.’ We listen when you describe your own favorite books, and we often find ourselves adding them to our own bedside stack.

“You customers amaze and intrigue us with your varied interests and opinions. We enjoy the conversations, the banter, the laughter. And we're thrilled that you customers come in to browse, to meet friends, to get a treat for your dog and simply to say hello. No wonder the 40 years seem to have sped by in a minute,” she writes.

That is true customer appreciation. Here in Mendocino, Christie Olson Day, owner of Gallery Bookshop, composed her own essay, her answer to the frequently asked question, why be an independent bookseller in this difficult era.

Christie writes, “We believe in the book. We believe in quieting the noise and listening to the stories. We believe in traveling far and wide between paper pages. We believe in touching the words, scribbling in the margins, and dogging the ears. We believe in surrounding ourselves with books long finished and books not yet read; in revisiting our younger selves each time we pull old favorites off the shelf.

“We believe in five-year-olds inking their names in big letters on the flyleaf.  We believe in becoming someone else for four hundred pages. We believe in turning off the screens and unplugging the networks once in awhile. We believe in meeting the author, reading the footnotes, looking up the words and checking the references. We believe in holding our children on our laps and turning the pages together.

“We believe in standing shoulder to shoulder in comfortable silence with our fellow citizens before a good shelf of books; we believe in talking face to face with friends and strangers in the aisles of a good bookstore. We believe that together, readers, writers, books and bookstores can work magic.

“If you believe, please join us:  SAVE THE WORLD.  BUY A BOOK.”

I asked Christie how she came to write her manifesto, and she responded, “Well, a couple of very enthusiastic and committed staffers had been telling me for months that the bookshop needed a mission statement. I had played around with some ideas, but everything sounded sort of corporate to me. They didn't sound like (our store). I thought a mission statement should answer the ‘why’ question: Why does this business exist? Why are we working so very hard at what we do? I didn't come up with anything that I wanted to plaster all over the store, though, until one weekend when I was at home, doing chores. The Manifesto just started running through my head -- along with the word: ‘Manifesto’ --  and it really is the reason we're here.”


The Eagle Harbor Book Company runs one of the more interesting bookseller web sites:.

You can find my local bookstore, the inimitable Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle’s Children’s Books, here.

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