Non-Book Questions

Josie Leavitt - October 4, 2013

Booksellers in touristy communities get asked a lot of non-book questions every day. They usually range from the basic, “Where can I get lunch?” or “How do I get to the museum?”, etc. But every so often we get asked some very odd questions that presuppose that independent bookstore staff know everything. Of course, with Google and our knowledge of the area we are often encyclopedic in ways we can help.
Here are some examples of things I’ve been asked in the past few months.
– Where can I find a real estate agent? People smartly check out our town and see a thriving village filled with a bookstore, a great coffee shop, an antique store, a toy store, a country store, an upscale gift shop and a myriad of wonderful restaurants and start having fantasies of moving to our idyllic hamlet. I cannot remember how many people I’ve given my realtor’s name to, but I know at least eight of them have bought houses from her since we’ve been open. What’s great about this exchange, is these folks become good customers and eventually, friends.
– Where can my son get a haircut? This was asked by a woman at 4:30 on a Sunday for her adult son who was with her, standing awkwardly running his hands through his slightly shaggy hair. We did a little Internet search and sent her flying out of here to get the last appointment at the Supercuts up the road. Why her son, who really needed a comb more than anything, wasn’t in charge of his own hair was puzzling to me, but I don’t judge. They both seemed okay with the exchange and he happily got in the car to get that last haircut of the day.
– Where is the Shelburne Inn? We get asked this a lot because our store and surrounding apartments used to be a hotel. Even now, almost 10 years after the Inn closed, we get folks weekly, asking where they can check in. They come right up the counter, which is where the registration desk used to be, and ask for a room. Some even keep asking hoping against hope that keys to a room will magically appear. Folks have even asked, “Are you sure?” This leads to the inevitable “where else can I stay?” discussion. Sometimes, when it’s high season, we’ll call around to the various hotels and check availability just to save the heartbreak of driving around and not getting a room.
– I had someone call the store several years ago and ask where he could buy porn. It wasn’t a dirty call, he just needed some porn. I told him we didn’t really carry any porn and he asked if I knew where he could some. I didn’t and this one time I did not avail myself of the Internet to help.
– Giving directions seems to just be part of the job of anyone who works in a bookstore. It’s heartwarming how people will just stop when they see a bookstore and ask for help for just about every thing they need. It makes such sense because bookstores contain within them most everything you need to know. And that is beauty of books.
What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked in your store?

7 thoughts on “Non-Book Questions

  1. Kathy

    The first question at every off-site sale is “Where’s the bathroom?” Do yourself a favor and find it before you set up.
    Best in store question was “Do you resole sneakers?” Followed quickly by “Oh, this isn’t the sporting goods store!”

  2. Sue Kelso

    My favorite question was obviously to settle a bet..”Who has the most rushing yards ever on Monday Night Football.” I was busy and since this was before google, I pretended to look it up and said Walter Payton. Little did I know it was Bo Jackson.

  3. Caroline

    “Do you carry lobster bibs?”
    That was a phone call, and the operator had given them the number for Paperback Booksmith instead of Paperama.

  4. Anna L. Conti

    “Where’s the nearest gas station? One I can get to with NO HILLS!?” … This is San Francisco, and we are downtown (most of us use public transit) so it took a few minutes to think of a route to a gas station, sans hills. Followup questions prompted the customer to say, “I”m from Florida and these hills are freaking me out!”

  5. sherri israels

    “I’d like to buy a goat.” Seriously. There was an organization in town selling goat “shares” in developing countries, but it wasn’t us!

  6. Lydia

    Hmmm, I work at a public library, but that doesn’t mean I lack interesting questions. It is quite a small library, in a town with a population of around 5,000 (give or take, depends on if more people have been dying, or giving birth!) and I just recently helped an elderly man pay his property taxes online. Typically, this is not a service we offer, but it was the day before the dues had to be paid, and why not help a man save $15?!
    Thank you so much for this blog! It always has just what I need.


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