“We’ve Left a Bit of a Mess”

Josie Leavitt -- August 14th, 2013

I’ve heard this phrase somewhat frequently in the 17 years I’ve had the store. Usually, people are being overly dramatic about the mess they’ve left. It’s often just a few books on the floor and maybe a stuffed animal that has migrated sections. Most people say this when they’re actually starting to clean up. We always tell them that it’s okay and they should go about their day.

Summer visitors to the bookstore tend to be more chaotic than any other time of year. Partly it’s because there are more people in each group, which increases the chances for large messes. I find stacks of books on the floor to be a sign that a family has had fun looking at things. I don’t mind reshelving; in fact, I’d always rather reshelve stacks than have families help because I know where everything goes. The chaos increase is also due to the fact that some folks have food with them.

We have a very delicate sign on the front door that says: Please, no food or drink in the bookstore. This is often ignored and we’re not really great about asking people to leave the store if they have ice cream. Generally, we don’t have horrible messes to clean up, until Monday.

This Monday there was a family of five in the store. They were rambunctious and clearly book lovers. Books were starting to pile up around them, so we just kept our eye out for anything that looked like it might get damaged by little feet. All was well, until just before they left. The dad was paying for the book they had picked out. I hadn’t seen the kids walk in with candy, but it materialized during their visit. Did you know that certain kinds of jawbreakers have a hard shell that can melt when it gets hot? Did you know that there are about four cups of blue sugary syrup that come from a jawbreaker left in a hot car and then cracked open by a three-year-old?

There was blue paint (I’m calling it that, because that’s what it looked like and what it cleaned up like) everywhere in one section. The mom noticed as she was gathering the kids to leave. She looked at the floor, the shelves, and her daughter’s hands and said, “I think you’ll need a mop.” She washed her daughter’s hands off and left the store. We were left to clean up. I never mind cleaning up, although I’m always a little stunned when the offer to help clean up isn’t made, even if I have no intention of letting the customer clean up. It just seems like common courtesy to at least offer.

Luckily, the candy shell was water-based and did clean up without too much fuss. No books were damaged and apparently there was still plenty of candy left to stem the tears that had threatened. I shared this story with co-worker David who told that just the other weekend a child urinated in the store because he couldn’t tear himself away from a Star Wars book. I laughed and was really happy that I had that day off.

So, what’s the worst mess you’ve had at your store? And how did you deal with it?