A customer approaches the desk. He or she wears an expression of concern or interest or lust for gossip.
Customer: Are you going out of business?
Bookseller: We sure hope not. The company's doing everything it can to avoid such a thing.
Customer: But I heard Borders is going out of business. [I heard all the stores are closing. I heard they're going into bankruptcy. I heard they're not paying the bills. I heard...]
Bookseller: You really know as much as I do. As far as I know, they're just about to get financing approved from GE Capital, with just some contingencies to meet and details to iron out.
Customer: But aren't you going out of business? That's what I heard.
Bookseller: Gee, we sure hope not. There are fifty of us in this store alone who depend on our paychecks to pay our mortgages and rents.
Customers, we understand curiosity. We understand that you want to know; hell, we want to know. What we don't understand is the savagery that seems to simmer beneath so many of your inquiries, the barely contained glee you seem to feel about what to us will be a catastrophic event. While you may view my employer's troubles as just another example of big business gone bad, or what's wrong with America, or perhaps the chains finally getting what's coming to them, here's how I view it.
With the exception of one nine month period, I've worked for Borders for seventeen years. I started with the company when it was the coolest thing around, the Ann Arbor-based bookselling equivalent of companies like Ben & Jerry's or Patagonia, that were customer-service focused, made or sold a great product, and--most important of all--were employee friendly. For years I loved my job and the company I worked for so much that I couldn't even bear to imagine working somewhere else. And, though the bloom is long off the rose in that respect, still, it's my job and I love it, even if I've fallen out of love with the company itself.
Having a stranger, even a stranger who is a customer and hence in some ways an invited guest, pepper me with questions for the express purpose of digging up dirt about the source of my livelihood, is hurtful and mean-spirited. Do you go to the home of someone you barely know and ask him about his mother's drinking and how his father used to beat him? Please, try to remember that the person you're speaking to is just that: a person, a person with bills to pay and mouths to feed and even, possibly, some modicum of pride left in her chosen profession. And know this: by reading the articles in the Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly and the New York and Los Angeles Times you'll know as much as we do.
And if you buy a book, so much the better.
2 months ago