Bits and Bobs on a Snowy Day

Elizabeth Bluemle -- February 11th, 2020

Bookstore days happen in shards of activity. A 10-minute segment of our morning might include:

  • helping a customer find books for her seven-year-old nephew who is suddenly obsessed with rock collecting,
  • calling the distributor to see why a title we ordered a week ago still hasn’t arrived,
  • ringing up a sale,
  • wrapping a birthday gift, and
  • looking up book three in a series a youngster can only remember has “magic” in the title.

On a good day, retail is best suited for people comfortable holding two or three different threads in mind at any given moment. Add to that unexpected weather events, and it’s a whirlwind of crazy. (Scroll to the end for happy puppy-in-snow video.)

It didn’t start out that way, though. The snowstorm that hit Vermont on Friday left all of our booksellers stranded at home. That meant several things: Snow day! Reading time! Catch up on undone work! Zero income from book sales with a closed store! (That last exclamation point expresses panic, not enthusiasm.) And lots and lots of marveling at the blowing snow outside.

The beginning of the blizzard in Burlington.

Opening the store on Saturday morning was a little surreal. First, I had to dig out my car:

I park a block away from where I live, and like most city apartment dwellers, I don’t own a shovel, so my excavating tools were a long-handled ice scraper, gloves, and boots. It took a while.

Driving to the store was fine; the roads were snowy and a little slippery, but passable. Once I got there, though, I found a bookstore surrounded by mounds of the white stuff. While the parking lot itself had been plowed, the sidewalk, store porch, steps, and ramp had not yet been shoveled out by the property management co. and were frosted with a big blanket of 18+ inches of snow to tromp through. (I was too focused on getting the store ready to open to take photos of the building with its impassable snow moat, darn it.)

Somehow, all of the building’s shovels had disappeared, so travelers passing by on Route 7 had a pretty funny view of me kicking snow off the porch with my boots. It must have looked like a big temper tantrum: “Go AWAY, bad snow! Go AWAY!” But it was actually fun.

Once there was a path for people to get to our door, we had lots of customers piling in, looking for the weekend birthday-party books they had meant to pick up the day before but couldn’t because of the storm. Some were expecting their special orders and seemed surprised that the Friday order hadn’t come, kind of forgetting that, if none of us could travel in the snow storm, UPS and FedEx weren’t able to deliver those boxes either.

The day after a major weather event is always cheery at the store, with people sharing their adventures and misadventures. Vermont is noted for its neighbors-pitching-in-to-help-neighbors ethos, anyhow, and that’s magnified when the going gets tough. Everyone had stories of sledding supplies to a house down the road, waking up to find their driveway had been plowed by the guy next door, or teaming up to get someone’s car out of a drift.

In addition to the usual bookstore craziness on a Saturday morning, add the kick-shoveling, salting, and scrambling to problem-solve for customers whose books had been delayed by the storm. Pro tip: in case of absent book, make up a gift card specially decorated with the book’s title and the gift recipient’s name, pop it in a festive envelope, and wrap the heck out of it with colorful ribbons. Customers want something tangible to give to the birthday boy or girl, and having a solution that will still guarantee the sale of the book we special-ordered for that customer is key.

The entire day was filled with people happy to be back out in the world, packing two days’ worth of errands into one, and cheerfully sharing their stories with each other. Feelings of community and common cause are two of the best and sometimes unexpected gifts that come to neighborhood booksellers, even and especially in the aftermath of a storm.

For anyone interested in how my puppy, Lola, liked the snow, here she is with one of her main people, Kai. The video is by Lola’s co-guardian, Sue:

This Snowy Day

Posted by Sue Schmidt Comedy on Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *