Things That Go Bump in the Night

Cynthia Compton - November 1, 2017

In honor of the morning after All Hallows Eve, I present to you the list things that scare this indie bookseller as we venture bravely (flashlights in hand) into the holiday season. (Also, I ate waaaay too many fun size Butterfinger bars this Halloween season. Let’s just get that confession out of the way right now, and I’ll leave the results of my next dentist appointment AND the fact that I’m wearing my fat jeans today right off the list.)

  1. Dark and Stormy Nights, or days, or entire weekends of bad weather. Here in the Midwest, two ill-timed snowstorms can decimate a holiday season, as customers huddle for warmth around the glow of their computer screen and ponder the enchantment of same-day delivery. Ideally, we need a light dusting of snow (the dry kind, that blows away without shoveling) in early November, just to get everyone thinking about the holidays, and then dry roads until early January. Rarely is our magic that good, but if we can just avoid the curse of the ice storm in early December, we may make it out of the season alive.

2. Vampires: the bloodsucking comparison shoppers, with their printed lists torn from the pages of an out-of-date magazine on the end table at Great Clips, wanting “this exact title, because it says it’s perfect for two year olds, and my niece is six months but REALLY BRIGHT. If she already has it, what’s your return policy? Do I get an aunt discount? Are those the only three wrapping choices?”
3. Witch (or which) titles will be the big holiday sellers? Which authors will appear on just the right chat shows, in just the right reviews, or zip around on their broomsticks to enchant readers at our stores? And which titles will get dumped into the cauldron of returns? Hey, has anyone seen that bottle of eye of newt sitting around?
4. Zombies: the undead, never shrinking piles of the WRONG STUFF we bought, without the protective spell of the lesser return discount. Oh, who knew that we’d fall prey to the guiles of the guilt-ridden midlist, the celebrity cover, or the “just perfect for Hamilton fans” tome with the heft of a gravestone?
5. Ghouls of the social media empire, the Yelpers and trolls who complain loudly online about some slight from a retailer, whether real or imagined. They post a poorly edited complaint about a refused return (no, we’re not taking back the book that your child wrote in with crayon, even if you DO have two copies), dance around the bonfire without ever revealing themselves as they watch the hapless shopkeeper try to douse the flames. Once that online earth is scorched, months can pass before something new can grow there.
6. Rattling Chains, or rather chain store closures. Empty strip malls, vacant holes on downtown Main Streets, all of which drive up costs in tax dollars for remaining businesses, push consumers to mass market stores or the internet to buy, and reduce the expectation of retail variety in our communities. (If a book falls in the forest, and the big box doesn’t put it face out, does it cease to exist?)
7. Moans and Groans from staffers covering the evening shift, when that family of 7 walks in just before closing time, wandering throughout the store picking up EVERYTHING, putting it back in the wrong place, only leaving (30 minutes after the OPEN sign was turned off) when Mom or Dad announces that “No one is getting anything, we’re just looking. Besides, you guys have lots of books you haven’t read.”
8. Shrieks of reluctant children coaxed to visit Santa at the shop. Every year, I say that this is the last time we’re doing this.
9. Ghosts of holidays past, when that customer saw “that book, it was right here, it was blue, and it had a girl on the cover. Or maybe it was green. But it was definitely a girl. Or a lion. Something with long hair.”
10. Howling wind on (almost) empty shelves as we wonder when to stop ordering, when to let enough be enough, when the special order will still magically appear if we place it five, four, three, two days before the deadline as we are haunted by….
11. The Monster of holiday shipping, as it demands more of our time, our money, our patience, and fervent crossed fingers that the package will not disappear into…
12. The Abyss of lost packages, incorrect tracking numbers, and “left on the neighbor’s porch” mysteries never to be solved, replaced but never forgiven.
13. The boogey man: It’s electronic, it’s a girl, it’s in everyone’s house (at least according to the advertisements), and its name is Alexa. Oh, sure, won’t it be helpful to just mention out loud that we’re out of toads, or that the black cat needs food? No, it won’t be helpful to the regional grocery store chain (who by the way, offers delivery too) or that local farmer who sells nettles there. I actually heard a report on public radio yesterday about the importance of speaking politely to the robot ordering device in front of children, as they believe that the machine has feelings, and adults are modeling “interpersonal communication skills” when they request products. Here’s a thought: let’s take children out of the house, let them speak to ACTUAL PEOPLE, the same actual people that own businesses in their community, and sponsor their quidditch team.)
Brrrrrrr. Was that a chill wind? Or just the sugar rush wearing off? I’m going to look and see if there’s one more Butterfinger.

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

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