After the very busy holiday season of weekend shifts, I’ve noticed a few things about customer behavior I thought I’d share. First, I have to add that pretty much universally this year customers were wonderful. There were no last-minute fits of anger about books that couldn’t be gotten in time for the holidays when they were ordered on two days before the holiday. I did notice some trends.
The Christmas and Hanukkah wrapping paper is still out on the counter, although the rolls are thin and the ribbon color choices are a bit limited. We’ve taken down the Santa books from prominent places, and moved them to a low shelf, spine-out, in picture books. There’s a great “Games to Play on New Year’s Eve” display near the front door, and our store giraffe is wearing those light-up glasses with 2020 surrounded by sequins. In spite of all that tinsel and glitter remaining, this is a remarkably quiet time in the store, as most of the big shopping is done, and kids are happily (we hope) tearing through the big stack of books they found wrapped in our paper under the tree. There are customers in and out, mostly kids on break with gift cards to spend, and late arrivals to extended family celebrations (“We have three boys to buy for, I don’t exactly remember their ages, but they need something to open. Can you help?”). But the pace is so much slower than just a week ago, and the neglected shop floor is covered with footprints of sidewalk salt dust and random small things that have rolled under fixtures. If there is an island of lost pacifiers and single mittens, it is surely populated by refugees from Christmas retail.
Christmas is two days away and my time filling in at the bookstore has come to an end. I have so enjoyed revisiting the store. The rigors of holiday retail found me tired. My life currently is one of a writer and performer living on the shores of Lake Champlain. That is to say, it’s a quiet life. Retail during the holiday season is the opposite of quiet.
There were times this weekend we were so busy that I wondered just how many people could actually fit in the store. It was glorious, intense, head-inducing at times (not remembering titles is infuriating) and lovely. There was a constant burbling hum of conversation. Folks were consulting book lists, texting family to confirm, parents gently chucked books to ring up and wrap before their kids noticed, and dogs, lots of dogs.
Favorite customers streamed in for holiday books and we were able to catch up. Some have new grandchildren, others new jobs, some had moved away but were back for a visit, and a few shared grim health news with surprisingly upbeat attitudes. I was reminded, over and over, that the bookstore is the heart of the community. Lives are shared here in hundreds of small ways and it was a gift to be part of that this season.
I hope everyone has a wonderful and book-filled holiday.
It is indeed the time to take a breather and report on the Best Things Heard Around the Bookstore this holiday season.
Most Favorite Thing Heard at the Store
He’s real!! Look Mom, he’s real! I knew he was real. Look Mom, Knuffle Bunny is real!
A young child on encountering our plush Knuffle Bunny
Least Favorite Thing Heard at the Store
I need a picture with me holding the store bag to prove I bought something in a small store.
A customer on Small Business Saturday getting a friend to take a photo for social media purposes
It’s a brief musical interlude today in this frantic week of sleigh-loading, friends, but I promise that the earworm it creates will be long-lasting. Here’s a little holiday tune to keep you humming between sales:
On the first day of the season, dear FedEx brought to me:
A shipment just missing box #3.
While I’m getting my bookseller feet back under me with the register and new systems, I’m realizing that I’m not as current on books as I’d like to be. I find that my post-bookstore reading has tended toward devouring mystery series in their entirety (thank you Louise Penny and Donna Leon), revisiting beloved favorites, and going on a Southern writers kick. These are great topics, but when someone comes in asking for something new, I’m a little out of my depth. But I’ve been noticing some trends that are making my job easier.
First, there doesn’t seem to one runaway book, which makes things easier. There are a lot of books selling quite well, but no one book that we just cannot get that everyone wants. People are calling about a wide variety of books and it’s been interesting to see what folks want.
We survived a crazily busy Saturday this weekend, with the store filled with customers from opening until past closing time (why do browsers move SLOWER once the “OPEN” sign is turned off, and staff is waiting to begin clean-up?) We saw just a few regulars early in the day, on their way to December birthday parties and picking up paperback nonfiction titles for the 3rd grade “Animal Expert” book exchange* this week. The rest of the day, though, was all-hands-on-deck for my crew, as we assisted those customers who visit us once a year to do their holiday shopping (“Oh, good. You’re still here! So many of these little shops like yours just don’t make it, you know”) and those first-time visitors (“So, how long have you been here? Seventeen years? Shup up! I have never noticed you before”) who need lots and lots of help. In those seventeen years, I have learned a few truths about first-time visitors: no matter how many signs you hang in your store, they won’t be big enough to be seen, and no one will read them anyway, and EVERYONE already has “so many children’s books at my house, really.”
Salvador takes the plunge!
Someone came up to one of our children’s specialists the other day and asked if anyone had ever retrieved the $200 Harry Potter boxed set that had been accidentally knocked into the hollow column next to the Harry Potter section during our storewide inventory in July. Since no one had thought to mention this to anyone in the children’s department at the time (or in the last five months), a search and rescue party immediately sprang into action! The pricey boxed set miraculously wasn’t damaged by the fall (it was cushioned by some signage that had previously made the descent) and emerged for just the right time of the year.
As I began preparations for the 2019 DDG Stocking Stuffer of the Year Award, an urgent issue awaited me. This award, which for so many years was marked by a rigorous integrity and a devotion to unbiased excellence, finds itself stained of late by the actions of a series of judges. These arbiters of sideline excellence, despite their overt promises to adhere to the rule banning judges from being even considered for any of the awards, swerved so far from their duty as to name themselves the top award winner in each of the last four years*. The means for insuring that this unhappy outcome does not occur again in 2019 manifested itself the day Cthulhu appeared in our store. Upon his arrival it was immediately apparent that the other sidelines were held in thrall to him, particularly the frogs.
Yet beyond the firm command he exercised over our contestants I also took comfort in knowing that Cthulhu was a full sized Squishable and was clearly too big to fit in even the largest stocking. Still I took extra measures.
My dear father, a big band singer in his youth, would often serenade my mother as she prepared dinner, interrupting her cooking to twirl her around and dip as he sang into his improvised microphone, usually a spatula or the beater from her 1960’s aqua colored Mixmaster. One of his favorite selections, “Slow Boat to China,” has been running through my mind on a constant loop this December, as I check shipping confirmations and delivery notification emails, hoping for updates on missing titles and merchandise. In our 17 years of business, and 18 holiday seasons, we have never experienced such a frustratingly unpredictable shipping process, and frankly, it’s hurting our business and lots of our colleagues’ businesses, too.