For the last nine years we have been blessed with working a young woman, PJ LeBerge, who had been a customer at the bookstore since the day we opened when she was only six years old. Today is PJ’s last day. She is moving on from the bookstore in preparation for graduate school. While I’m saddened to lose her, I’m so excited for her future and her obtaining a degree in library science. I can’t help but think the bookstore work had something to do with her career choice.
PJ started working for us when we moved our store to Shelburne. She was 16 and an avid reader who was also painfully shy. Peej (as we all affectionately call her) was great at organizing sections, doing window displays and restocking. But in the beginning she was hesitant to work on the register. Elizabeth and I let that slide for a months while she got used to working in a retail environment. Then one day in early December, I threw her to the wilds of a busy Christmas day. I will always chuckle at the look on her face: wild-eyed and nervous. But I knew she could do it. Not only did she do it, she thrived at it. Even saying at the end of that day, “That was crazy, but it was fun!”
It’s been wonderful to see her blossom as a bookseller and a person. Her book choices are eclectic and she can recommend just about any book for any reader. Peej’s love of history (she has a thing for Vikings that we also tease her about) made her a valuable asset. She can speak passionately about all genres because she’s a broad reader. I owe her a debt for introducing me to the wonderful mysteries of Camila Lackberg. She loves to wrap. Every holiday season, whenever someone needed a book wrapped, we’d ring our little bell at the register and she’d wrap books beautifully with lots of perfect ribbons. She also bring a farming work ethic to the bookstore and never shied away from big projects. In fact she and Elizabeth spent many late days reorganizing sections or cleaning the basement. She loves to work hard and takes great pride in what she does, often coming to the bookstore right from her other job working at a horse barn.
The joy that PJ feels with books is matched only by her love of horses. She is singlehandedly responsible for our horse shelf in the middle grade section. Kids come in looking for horse books; they are very popular at our store, and she can chat about each book with humor and tell the young horse enthusiast which ones have gotten horse behavior right and which ones are, well, less than representative of what a horseman would do. She reads all the galleys on horses and tells which ones we should carry. She even discovered a then self-published horse book that we sold literally hundreds of in two years.
It’s been a privilege to be part of her life. We’ve seen PJ go from a straight A student in high school, to an honors student at the University of Vermont and then a successful Masters candidate at St. Andrews in Scotland. When she returned home from Scotland she worked for us again, even more poised and mature than when she had left. As she embarks on this next exciting chapter of her life I know I will miss her easy laugh, her wry sense of humor, her love of snacks, and now tea. But mostly I feel such pride in her. In these last nine years she’s been an increasingly valuable asset to the store. We will miss her and wish her nothing but the best.
And I reserve the right to call her when she’s home for Christmas and see if she wants to come in and help us wrap and read a galley or two and write up a few shelftalkers.