Bookselling Is Detective Work

Josie Leavitt - October 26, 2015

Many of our readers know that my store is in a very small town with a population of just over seven thousand. In a town this small, with the store located in the even smaller village, it’s very easy to help customers better because we know them, we know all of them. This is why having an independent bookstore can be such fun. Every¬†week we have to act as detectives for what kids might like for their birthdays because customers know there’s a very good chance we’ll know them. Last week a unique situation popped up that still makes marvel at the tightness of a small town.
A customer came in last week wanting to get her daughter’s friend a special book for her birthday. She knew the girl is a huge reader of historical fiction and wanted to get the book her daughter bloodonrivehas just loved. The issue got tricky when I realized we’d sold out of the book. The woman knew that Blood on the River was the perfect book for this girl. I told her I was happy to order it and we’d have it in two days. Here’s where it got tricky. She wanted to prepay for the special order so the birthday girl would be able to come in and pick up the book, but for the life of her, she couldn’t remember the girl’s name. She thought it might be Sonia or “something Swedish” but really had no clue. That was not enough for me to go on, as the only two Swedish families I know who shop at the store didn’t have any birthdays till the spring.
Then I started asking about her parents. Maybe they were big shoppers? In the conversation the woman said, “She’s a doctor, has a different last name than the kids. Something with a B.” Then a lightbulb went off for me and I practically shouted, “Dr. Brady?” And the woman slapped her hand on the counter and shouted back, “Yes!” Several people looked up from their browsing. Turns out that Dr. Brady is my doctor and now it was making sense to me. This small town loop gets even better.
I had to see Dr. Brady the other day and I brought her the wrapped, pre-paid special order birthday present to give to her daughter. She was touched and her daughter got the book (and I got my allergy medicine) well before the weekend, when Dr. Brady thought she’d have time to get to the store.
While others may work in larger places with a more diverse customer base, I love my little town of seven thousand. It is really possible to be connected to almost all these people in far fewer than six degrees of separation. And the detective in me loves being able to piece together puzzles so that a young reader can be introduced to a great new book.