The beauty of owning an independent bookstore is the depth of conversation I can have with customers. The level of comfort customers have with us, and us with them, allows for some lovely chats, often about serious things, that can had while discussing books. People often say that working retail means not knowing how your day is actually going to unfold because of who comes in the store and what they might need. And this is my favorite part of my job.
Below is a smattering of the conversations I had with customers last week.
- One woman came for the first time in many months and as we were getting caught up on her divorce and she revealed a scary accident that happened at home. She wasn’t going to go to the doctor to follow up on why she passed out for no reason. I strongly encouraged her to keep that appointment because I was worried about her heart. She hugged me and thanked me for encouraging her without totally terrifying her about her health. She called to say she has an appointment with a cardiologist this week and will keep me posted.
- Another woman, Isabelle, who comes in every Monday, seemed a little low and I just gave her a spontaneous hug. I’ve never hugged this customer before. She’s the most active 85-year-old I’ve met with more energy than most 20-year-olds but she just seemed like she needed a hug. She pulled back from the hug with damp eyes, and I asked if she was okay and she said that her sister had died the previous week. She then told me all about her and their lives. It was a wonderful talk that was full of laughter and more than a few tears.
- Lauren, who comes in three times a week, has been filling us in on her quest to get a puppy that her children won’t be allergic to. She showed us pictures of the litter of puppies that her dog is likely to come from. We all weighed in on the cutest one and she will keep us posted. She also promised to bring the puppy in for weekly socialization.
- A boy, probably 10 or so, came in and as we talking about fantasy books he just offered, “I’m reading everything because I want to get in a good college.” I was taken aback, because 10 seems a little young to be thinking about college, and he could see the surprise on my face. He went on to explain that he knew he’d have to get a scholarship because college is so expensive. We talked about his long-term goals and how he’s saving all of his allowance to help pay for school. I offered him a job when he’s 14.
I have often said owning a bookstore is a lot like having a bar without the alcohol. People feel comfortable sharing. I think partly is because we’ve been around so long, we know folks and there’s a level of comfort with us. We’ve seen families grow, we’ve lost far too many people, and we get to share in the happiness. And that makes every day a chance at joy, and that is a wonderful way to work.