As much of the country seems gripped in an unusually bad winter, I am reminded how bookstores are havens from the storm. Whether it’s a snowstorm, icy roads, flood, or even just a bad thunderstorm, bookstores tend to be the place where folks gather for information, commiseration and how-to books. Weather is something we all have in common, and if you’re in New England, it’s something that gets talked constantly, although I’m sure every region spends just as much time chatting about it as we do. I’m fairly certain people in the South have been talking about ice for weeks now.
Bad weather binds us together. I love a big snowstorm when brave folks stop at the store on their way home to stock up on books just as they do with milk, eggs and butter. Storms and the thought of getting snowed in make people nest, and the bookstore sees many parents planning ahead for bored kids by getting a stack of new books for the family. Not only are books comforting, but they can be enormously helpful. I’ve sold a lot of science and weather books this week. Kids seem to be asking weather-related questions that are fairly hard to answer. Why is it so cold this year compared to last year? How come we’ve had so little snow? Kids ask good questions that are often stumpers. They want to understand things like climate change (if they’re older, although younger and younger kids seem to ponder this as well) and why it can rain in December when it’s 30 degrees.
Every interaction with customers during a weather event pretty much begins with gathering news from outside. I will always ask: How is out there? Are the roads okay? What have you heard? The downside of this is by the end of the day I am just about ready to shoot myself if I hear one more word about the wind-chill. But I still ask the questions because I love hearing news about what it’s doing outside. Yes, I can look out the window. Heck, I can even go out (but why would I?) and see for myself, but hearing from someone who has just been on the road is like talking to an advance scout. As a store owner, I need to know how the roads are. I never want any staffer to stay longer at the store than is safe. Everyone needs to get home in one piece and not have it be a harrowing experience. Yes, the bookstore is important, but I’m a fan of closing if being open just increases someone’s chances of driving off the road. After the weather clears people stream in if they’ve been cooped up for awhile. They shake snow off their boots and seek the comfort of their favorite section. Sometimes, especially at the old location in Charlotte, people would cross country ski or snow shoe to the store. People share stories: I lost power for two days, my plow guy got stuck, a tree almost fell on the house, etc. Kids in scratchy snow pants stream in, shedding clothes in various sections as they start to overheat.
One of my favorite things about the bad weather are the traditions, often book-related, that families have during bad weather: reading The Wind in the Willows, or The Long Winter or having a whole-family read aloud by flashlight. And honestly, what is more cozy than curling up with a great book, a hot chocolate being surrounded by the people you love?