Sometimes I feel like I need to put the keyboard down and back away slowly because I have this blog, and I have these opinions, but I know some of my opinions are not ones that are popular or politically correct or what writers are supposed to think – but I still have them and then I’m tempted to write about them.
I’ve been thinking this for a while, but I’m just going to say it:
I MOSTLY DO NOT LIKE SHOPPING AT BOOKSTORES.
Oh. My. Goodness. Did I just write that? Really?
It’s true, though. I mostly don’t. And I was prompted to finally say this by the stories trickling out of The Booksellers Association Conference about how great bookstores are, and how Amazon is evil, etc. OH COME ON!
Get over yourselves. Even though the Authors Guild may not agree, books are products. Bookstores are retailers. I’m sorry if anyone doesn’t like those facts, but they’re true.
No retailer has the right to exist. As a Canadian, I used to think Eaton’s had a right to exist – I was wrong, they’re gone, and the world goes on.
If you want to exist as a retailer, you have to do things right. Some bookstores do things right. Those bookstores should continue to exist – although it doesn’t matter if I think they should continue to exist; they just WILL because people will like shopping there. The rest, well, here are some of the reasons I don’t like shopping at bookstores:
(1) I don’t like shopping, period. So, you may say I’m a bad person to be writing this. If I don’t like shopping, why would I like shopping at bookstores? Well, guess what? There are lots of people like me in the world. The internet lets us shop without going to stores. So there has to be a good reason for us to go to a store. When I think about the stores that I still actually go into, physically, they’re all stores that offer me the chance of discovering something. I go to Canadian Tire because every Canadian knows, if you’re not sure where to buy it, Canadian Tire will have it, PLUS they’ll have a dozen other things you never knew you needed but you can no longer live without, now that you’ve seen them. I go to Mountain Equipment Co-op to peruse the equipment which is useful and, often, pretty, and usually reasonably priced. I go to Boomerang Kids (consignment children’s clothing store) because I never know what treasures will be on the racks. I go to stores to find cool stuff which seems designed just for me. When I know exactly what I want, I click three times and buy it online. So, I’d say, bookstores need to have cool / unexpected stuff in them I’ll want to go in for.
(2) The wrong staff can make me swear I’ll never enter a store again. So, here’s my chance to talk about a bookstore that’s great! Kaleidoscope Kids in Ottawa – the store looks great, and the selection is good, but the staff members are hilarious! Book loving! Sociable! Great staff – I would never walk past Kaleidoscope without going in. (Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to link to their site right now, so hmmm …). Anyway, suffice it to say, my experience with bookstore staff has been poor, especially in independent bookstores. At Chapters / Indigo, I find someone will usually make eye contact with you, and say hi. And I’ve had some good recommendations from staff in those stores. In a city we travel to frequently, I used to have a favourite Indigo store (see – a bookstore I liked – because I ALWAYS found new stuff there that I didn’t expect to). It closed down which left the independent bookstore down the street. I had never been into that bookstore. EVER. With no Indigo, I went in. My sons and I camped out in front of the YA / Teen section. We were there for AGES. Staff walked by us many times on their way to the back room where there seemed to be some sort of staff inside joke gathering going on. Maybe they were laughing at us?
(3) For the love of God – make your store look nice! Seriously, the reason I’d never been into the above-mentioned independent was because the window appeared never to be clean. To the point where I sometimes wondered if it was still open. Once inside the carpets were – well – yucky. And I don’t normally notice carpets in stores. I think it’s really important for a store – any store – to have a theme / image / brand. Have a look. Be interesting. Be inviting. Have open space and sight lines – for the customers and the staff. Be bright. I worked in retail for quite a while. When we weren’t actually, actively selling, we were cleaning. We did creative displays. We kept the shelves neat and clutter-free. That stuff works! It really does; and it costs nothing if you have well-trained staff who get that they should work for their whole shift; not stand around and chat amongst themselves when their fingers aren’t actually on a cash register.
I get that it’s a hard time to open, and run a bookstore. Although, having said that, the way the publishing industry is currently set up, bookstores can return books that don’t sell, which is something most retailers can’t, so there’s that … however … I wouldn’t want to run a bookstore. Being successful would require a blend of people skills – customer and staff – an eye for design, a head for business, and a passion for books. It would be all-consuming. I know that.
But so is opening a restaurant. So is being a school trustee (talk about mucho hours for almost no pay). Writing a novel can also have its challenges.
I’m not denying there are challenges to running a successful bookstore, but I’d just like to hear more positives – what can we do? how can we keep up with changing times? what are great bookstores around the world doing to make themselves great? – instead of negatives and complaining.
And for those bookstores already doing it – great – but you don’t need me to tell you that; your customers show it with their feet. Keep up the good work!