The Scariest Place in the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - April 29, 2009

We’ve just had inventory done at the store. This is all fine and dandy, but it forced me to confront the back room. The place my staff is scared of, the place from which few return unchanged, and the place toddlers love to discover when no one’s really paying attention to them.

The back room is supposed to be the office, the place for overstock and boxes of author event books, a place to close the door and have a moment of peace and quiet. A thoughtful place. Well, not so much at the Flying Pig. Our back room is a hazard. Oh, sure, there’s a computer and desk space, really just enough space for the keyboard and mouse, but there’s no chair. The chair is at my house and we’ve never gotten another one; we like the extra space, for the dog beds. Yes, we have two seemingly massive dog beds in the back for our two cocker spaniels, Theo and Inky. They only come to the store once a week or so, but I insist on keeping the beds in the office. Admittedly, they’re usually perched, pecariously at best, on a box, but at least they’re out of the way.

The desk is mounded by catalogs and books we have to look at that customers’ friends have published themselves, that they think "would do really well at the Flying Pig." (More on what to do about self-published books in another post.) Then there’s the fax machine that really just chirps when the automated people call about my healthcare needs.  

In a perfect world, if you need a book from overstock, you should be able to just walk in, find the shelf, then alphabetically find the book. Here’s what happens at the Flying Pig: the staff member goes back there, finds the shelf, which is too high for them to reach (for the most part all but one of our staff is under 5’2"), then they drag a footstool in and stand on that, rooting around the shelf. If I stand on the footstool, my head grazes the ceiling: the back of the store is only six feet two inches high. This height, or lack thereof, creates a lot of heat. So, we’ve taken out every alternating light bulb, but it’s still hot, so it feels like a darkish tanning bed in there. Back to finding the books. If you’re lucky it only takes a few minutes, if luck is not on your side, it’s a mystery. We try to keep to order, but it’s hard. And it seems most folks think I’m the reason for the chaos.  I must admit to this. I know where things are because I put them back wrong every day. I just don’t tell people, "Oh, that extra copy of Eragon is on the third shelf, behind the gardening books."

Rep meetings are a whole other story. The lack of chairs means we’re all perched on the fabric cubes we have throughout the store. These cubes are comfy for about 10 minutes and then the lack of a back starts to wear on everyone. Catalogs are sliding off laps, laptops are perched at very dangerous angles. And can I ask other booksellers: just how long does it take to find an outlet in your office in the back room? I’m forever bending under the counter secretly wishing I had one more lightbulb plugged in, so I could actually see where the damn outlet was. I always feel sorry for the reps, hauling their massive bags in the back that can absorb nothing more. After being in our new space for two years, I now have meetings in restuarants and the middle grade section. Really, it’s pathetic.

Toddlers love to sneak back. Some love to see the cash register as you have to pass it to get to the back room. I always indulge them by opening the register and saying, "Do you want to see the money?" Some toddlers do make it all the way to the back room. I love them. Toddlers are great. They don’t judge. Their mothers, however, take it all in with eye-widening horror and never quite look at us the same way again. 

C’mon, share your back room horror story. All of our reps say it’s not just us.


8 thoughts on “The Scariest Place in the Bookstore

  1. S. Duvall

    If I was anywhere near your store, I would volunteer to clean out your back room. Places like that just get me into cleaning and organizing mode and the little bit of OCD I have just screams at me until it’s done. 🙂

  2. shelftalker elizabeth

    Oh, we clean it frequently. It just fills up again immediately. The cord situation is a little untenable. Josie, you are very brave to post the photos. Where are the reps and fellow booksellers sharing their own backroom laments? Maybe we are alone in our chaos after all. Hmmm.

  3. Joe Parker

    I’ll compare my office to your back room any day-stapled pages of old drafts share space with the dictionary and thesaurus on the floor. Then there is the nonfunctioning printer, and old keyboard, outdated sales booklets, etc. You get the picture.

  4. sg

    Maybe permanently plugging in an extension cord or (better yet) a surge protector would help you with finding a plug when you need it… as for the room itself, I can totally sympathize! You are not alone!


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