Sunday, February 6, 2011

Overheard in the Bookstore

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.


J.G. said...

Yes, some people do go to the homes of others and ask those awful questions. Poor you: you can't even give them a good old-fashioned "How dare you?!" response because you're supposed to be serving them. I hope it gets sorted out soon and with a positive outcome.

Jo said...

I have stopped wondering why people ask certain questions, or seem to be somewhat gleeful at the possibility of someone else's misfortune. I work at a library, and every so often, we get questioned about if we're still going to exist, etc. I just smile and say, "Oh yes. Of course!", which usually settles things.

Sending some positive thoughts your way. :)

TheBookGirl said...

Oh my, that customer was rude in my book...I hope for you and all your fellow employees that the company finds a way to right the ship soon :)

Rachel said...

Stopping by via the hop. Just thought I'd say hello! Great blog you have here. This was a really interesting post... I sure hope that Borders can fix it's problems so you guys aren't out of work!

I am your newest follower.

And the plot thickens...

Barb said...

Amazing how ignorant some people can be! Sorry you had to deal with that!

Cozy in Texas said...

People are rude. I can't tell you how many people ask me how much I make as an author. That's no different from asking someone what their annual salary is.
I've always thought working in a book store or library would be a wonderful job. Good for you.

Laure said...

Nah, not rude. Inquisitive. I love borders by the way, I enjoy chatting with the employees every time I visit, but I also live in an area where we have two and both have closed. And I feel darned sorry for the staff that have all lost their jobs due to this fiasco that Borders management got mired in. The only one open now is about a half an hour's drive away. Not conducive to easy shopping, let me tell you. I personally prefer to buy my books at a real store, so this is upsetting to me. Now all there is is *ONE* chain or, like I said, driving out of my way to find another. So yes, it is a question that inquiring bookstore lovers want to know. Sorry it bothers you. If yours is still open, I feel lucky for you and your customers.