I was a bookseller in one of my previous career lives. For about seven years I worked in a very large bookstore that was part of one of the major bookstore chains in the US, and, for the most part, I simply loved that job. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t miss the sore feet, working the day after Christmas when the “season of returns” began, or dealing with “challenging” customers. But there are a lot of things that I remember very fondly about those days–so here are the top ten things I miss the most about working in a bookstore:
- Books, books, and more books. Obvious, right? We’ve all heard the phrase “bookstores are my candy shop” but when you work in a bookstore, it’s true. Temptation is all around you—but it’s the very best (nonfattening!) kind. To me books are comfort objects, and coming to work each day to a place filled with literally thousands of them was such a deep pleasure. There are two minor drawbacks to this, though: Your TBR list grows uncontrollably, and you quickly realize that your book-buying budget is terribly inadequate. This brings us directly to #2 . . .
- Employee Discounts. This is the most dangerous thing about working in a bookstore! There was a great employee discount at the bookstore I worked for—plus, there were special Employee Appreciation Days twice a year when an even more generous discount was offered. The temptation is to get carried away! I know that I never could have afforded a lot of the wonderful hard cover books I own today if I hadn’t bought them while I was a bookseller. However, when I did need to control my book buying, there was a wonderful remedy in place. That takes us to #3 . . .
- Check Out Program. This is the part that practically made me swoon during my interview. Employees were allowed to borrow any hardcover in the store, as long as it was returned in saleable condition. Can you imagine it? It was like having an enormous, private library. Practically any book you wanted was right there for you to borrow and enjoy. The philosophy behind the policy was that the company wanted us to be well read, but understood that even with our employee discounts, we just couldn’t purchase all the books we wanted to read. This is one of the things I miss the most.
- New Releases. It was so easy to keep track of new books by favorite authors—we saw them shipped in every day! Plus, we saw ALL the new books coming in—it was such a great way to discover new authors and topics.
- Working along side of booklovers all day, every day. Hands down, this is what I miss the most. The company I worked for prided itself on hiring people who knew books, who loved books, and who could talk about books. We all talked about books with customers, of course, but we also talked about books constantly with each other. I still remember some of the conversations I had in the stock room with fellow booksellers—Was “Catcher In the Rye” really a great American novel, or was it all hype? Which books has everyone read but you? How would you have re-written the ending to the latest hot novel? (I’m not sure who was out on the sales floor during these conversations, but I’m sure that the customers were being taken care of by someone!)
- Being a Book Detective. I LOVED IT when a customer would approach the information desk and say to me with a sigh, “You probably can’t help me, but . . .” and then would offer a vague description of a book. “I think the cover is blue, I heard them talking about it on the radio, I think it’s by a woman . . .” I viewed these types of inquiries as a personal challenge—I think all booksellers do—and it was amazing how often we could figure out the right book by asking the right types of questions! The best part was actually being able to walk the customer over to the shelf and hand them the right book and watch their jaws drop open.
- No need to join a gym! Books are heavy, and they have to be moved. Boxes of books need to be moved off of delivery pallets. Books need to be sorted into their area bins. Books need to be put onto shelves. Books need to be taken off of shelves to make room for new books. I was in the best shape of my life when I was a bookseller. When I left to take a desk job I felt the difference within just a few weeks.
- Storytimes. I spent a lot of time in the kids section of our store, and I ran the story hours that we held three times each week. There is nothing like reading one of the “Froggy” books—complete with audience participation– to a group of preschoolers to put you in a good mood! And this brings us to . . .
- Costume Characters. I’ve paid my dues dressing up as Clifford The Big Red Dog, Peter Rabbit, The Cat In The Hat, and many more. Let me tell you—those costumes are HOT! I learned very quickly to bring shorts and a tank top to work on “costume days”. But the oohs and aahhs from the kids made it worth it. (Bonus question—my avatar is a photo of me dressed as character from a book—do you know who it is???)
- Did I mention the books?
What about you? Have you ever worked in a bookstore. . . or wanted to work in one? Please share!