Finding Readers in Unexpected Places

Josie Leavitt - October 5, 2015

Readers of this blog know that I have a dog, Allie. She comes to the store, has gotten letters and books from publishers, and now she’s partly responsible for new customers coming to the store. My dog is part whippet, part Lab, and all needs-to-run-a-lot-every-day. The only safe place for her to do this is the dog park which is down the street from the bookstore. At first I resisted the dog park because honestly, it made me nervous. All those dogs playing and running: how would they all get along? Turns out pretty darned well.
Here’s the thing about the dog park. Dogs play and have fun while the owners just stand around until it’s time to leave. There are benches, and sometimes we sit. There is a fairly committed cadre of us who are at the dog park twice a day. It turns out, just about everyone who goes to the dog park is a reader.

Some folks I already knew to be customers, others had not been to the store that I could tell. When dogs are engaged in happy doggie activities that mean they won’t bounce off the walls at home, we stay at the dog park for long periods of time. In this time we talk about many things, but often the topic turns to books.
At first we talked about fun books for summer reading and book groups. Then as we all became better friends some folks would ask me for recommendations about teenage depression, body issue books, good choices for a reluctant pre-teen reader, and one even asked about a divorce book. I sometimes feel like a bartender or a priest at the dog park. There is a confessional air to being a bookseller in a small public gathering. I’m not sure why it is, but it seems to happen all the time. People always have book needs, whether for pleasure or for an issue. Dog park people also know that I won’t tell anyone what books they’ve ordered – it’s no one business what Fido’s mom orders.


Allie on the left with her bestie, Snickers.

The really funny thing about the dog park is we all know the dog’s names but not the owners. So when I order a book for someone who is not a good dog park friend the book often gets tagged for Javelin, Dewdrop, or Fenway. Then I tell the owners when I see them that their book is in. This sort of remote ordering means I have a lot of notes in my phone to keep track of the special orders. Pages and pages of notes with book titles and associated dog names.  And the beauty of this is my dog is helping me introduce new customers to the bookstore.
The other wonderful thing about the readers at the dog park are the suggestions I get from them. Often there is a wide range of readers at the park, so I’m hearing about sociology and political science titles from the men I know. And lots of dog park goers read science fiction, another genre I’m not fluent in.  This is great, because these are not books I generally read and it’s lovely to get good recommendations. We often talk the books we loved as children and there were many heated debates about Go Set a Watchman over the summer.
Who knew having a dog would help the bookstore bottom line?