Monday, July 25, 2011

Where I Spend My Money Matters To Me

For fourteen years I was the manager/buyer for a very successful independent bookstore. It was a lot of hard work but over the years I worked with some wonderful, smart, good at their job people in the store and in publishing, got tons of free books, was able to force my book tastes on customers and was for the most part content with the job. If a surprise chance to move into another area of the book biz had not come along chances are I would still be there. I have worked in chain bookstores as well as "my" bookstore. Both kinds of retail require work but being employed in an independent store where every sale means another chance to stay open, where customer service is a matter of survival, where every penny spent is weighed in the balance, where the creation of every display is a crucial element in the week's business plan that is WORK. I am telling you this employment history because it explains the level of retail experience I have which is considerable.

Given this experience I tend to be hyper critical of any retail establishment I go into. After all I have done every single thing that every employee in that business has done for most of my working life. If a store is messy more than once in a great while I am not going back. If I do not get great customer service when I seek it (Which is not often because I find that in general clerks are so badly trained in their stores inventory and policies not to mention manners that it is not worth my while to ask for help.) I am not going back. If the store is perpetually out of the products or titles I desire, I am not going back. The Internet's greatest gift is not its ability to allow me to shop from home and have my purchases shipped to my door. Oh no. Its that the Internet helps me to avoid the wealth of crap retail environments and customer service out there.

Where I live I have happily have access to two independent bookstores (My locals.), a Barnes and Noble and for a little while longer a Borders. All four of these stores are less than twenty minutes from my home and in some way convenient to other places I have to visit. How lucky am I?

 I most frequently purchase at one of my locals. It is extremely important to me that they stay in business so I have to help that happen. It's too late to miss them when they are gone and that is what will happen if I and others do not support them. However this is no pity support. I like them. Their staff is on the job, the stores are well cared for, the selections good and they make a point of appreciating my business. Yes, every single title or funky doodad I buy there I could pay less for online. There are times when I do buy things online I could have bought at my locals because of the price or convenience but the majority of the books I buy come from my locals.

I will miss my Borders very much. For years they have offered me an excellent selection of titles. I have discovered more books I never heard of (and that's saying something) in that store than in any other bookstore in the U.S. I like the layout of the store and have found the staff to be accommodating and attentive. The atmosphere was always pleasant, the bathrooms clean and the sale tables interesting. I will not be vulturing at the closing sale. It's too sad that they couldn't make it and that all those people will be out of work. I do not want to partake in their final days.

The Barnes and Noble in my neighborhood is far and away the least favorite of my four bookstores. It didn't used to be that way. It was always at the bottom of the list but no so far down. I did not avoid it like I do now. I never found the staff to be any great shakes or interested in me at all. Parroting company policy and saying that a book, "Should be over there", is very big in that store. So what happened to make them a dreaded last resort? Well the economy tanked a few years ago as you undoubtedly recall, B&N decided that the Nook was it's future and then what seemed to be a quarter of the store became warehousing for the kind of expensive, brainy kids science kits, over the top tea sets and guarantee your child a place in Harvard toddler toys that clueless Aunts and Uncles and moneyed Grandparents buy.

Now whenever I go into that B&N it is a mess. The front of the store, Nooktown, is spotless but go back four feet and you find depleted bookshelves, sections that have obviously not been straightened or organized in days and four or five bargain book bays with choices that seems to take years to change. I swear there has been a ten copy stack of the hardcover edition of Free Food for Millionaires (A very enjoyable novel.) on the fiction bay for two years. Obviously this B&N does not have enough staff or books to justify its size and as a result it looks unkempt and unappealing. B&N cutting back on their discounting hasn't done anything to help me overcome my unhappiness with the state of the store.

The loss of Borders will benefit my locals as far as my purchasing goes but I will wish it was still there anyway.

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