As this is my first official blog post, I thought I’d take a moment and introduce myself. I own the Flying Pig Bookstore, a general bookstore, in Shelburne, Vt., with my partner Elizabeth Bluemle, who will co-blog with me. We’re entering our 13th year in business and have seen many changes in the business, some good, some bad and some downright funny. I’ll almost always go for the funny as my other job is performing and teaching stand-up comedy.
After reading Alison’s ShelfTalker posts for the past two years, I feel there are some very large, extremely talented shoes to fill. I’m grateful to her for bringing her writing skills and keen eye to children’s bookselling on a regular basis. I’m somewhat – okay, a lot – daunted by the prospect of replacing her. I am grateful that she will guest-blog often, as I look forward to hearing what she’s got to say.
There are many aspects to bookselling that are obvious: buying books, sales meetings, working with customers, etc., but there’s one thing that often goes unnoticed: the folks who bring us the books. I want to talk about UPS and the relationship we have with our delivery men, or women. Really, without them, we’d have no just-in-time inventory, no rapid turnaround on special orders, no fun boxes to open on a daily basis. They can make us or break us. Does anyone remember the UPS strike during the summer of 1997, when business literally ground to a halt?
Since we opened in 1996, I can count on one hand the number of steady UPS drivers we’ve had. We started with grouchy Dave: dependable, but always had something to complain about, as he had been with UPS for 28 years. When he retired we got Steve, a lovely older gentleman who was killed in a bizarre tractor incident (this could probably only happen in Vermont). Steve’s death gave us a string of poor imitation substitute drivers who never quite knew the route well enough to know that we were used to getting our shipments by noon, not at 5:30, or that sometimes in winter I accepted all the packages for my neighbors because our road was a half mile of ice from December to April and no driver dared to brave it. Then we got Jeff. Robust, chatty and delightful, always on, and able to carry many boxes in a single trip. We loved him. Then we moved the store and I worried again what would happen.
Well, Mark happened. A young, funny, unicycling champ, who always has something to say about just about everything. He delights in watching my face sink when I realize that all 20 boxes on his cart are for us. Every day he arrives right around 11:30; he’s cheery and courteous, and knows that getting my shipments before lunch means more business for me at the end of the day when special orders get picked by delighted customers.
Just when I think everything’s going great, Mark is having knee surgery next week. And I’m worried. Oh, not about him, he’ll be fine. His orthopedist shops at the store and I’ve strongly suggested that if he wants to get continued recommendations for great fiction, he should treat Mark like the VIP he is. But Mark will be out for at least a month. A month of substitute drivers who give my boxes to the toy store next door, who forget things on the truck until the next day, or who literally drop the boxes from a standing height and then kick them over to where they belong.
And it’s Easter season, the first bump in sales since Christmas. I can only keep my fingers crossed and hope Mark recovers as quickly as he thinks he can, and that the new drivers take to our quirks well.