And So We Stand Resolute

Cynthia Compton - January 2, 2018

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Good grief, I’m an indie children’s bookseller. I have just survived the tidal wave that was Christmas, keeping my sanity (mostly) and my staff together in our little shop sailboat, tossed in the stormy water by a torrent of demanding customers, the unrelenting winds of late hours followed by overnight shelf stocking, receiving, and event prep, and the unpredictable lightning flashes of “out of stocks” and the rumbling thunder of shipping woes. Are we not deserving of rest, champagne, and gentle congratulations? (And perhaps some kind person who would come in at night and buff the floors?) Now, we are required to be introspective, soul-searching and identify ways we can IMPROVE, too?  And put all that in a LIST? With desired outcomes, and checkpoints, and GOALS? Yikes. I’m doing well just let the echoes of the incessant holiday music subside in my head, and only barely avoiding the shakes when I see a customer exit their car in the parking lot, heading toward our door with ONE OF OUR BAGS IN THEIR HANDS, and I spy (no, tell me it’s not) our own Christmas wrap peeking out of the bag. Let’s handle returns before resolutions, shall we?

Instead of resolutions that focus on fixing things (I’m just not strong enough yet to discuss the state of our stock room or what happened to that brand new jar of Nutella and the jumbo can of pretzel sticks the week before Christmas, and my coffee consumption is medicinal — I swear it is), let’s just celebrate all the things we know we can do.Let’s remember all the things that make indie booksellers rock stars, or all-stars, or just really kind people, who contribute to our communities and our families and our world. When I think of all of my dear friends in bookselling, I am so proud that we:
Celebrate childhood, in both its innocence and its insatiable desire for knowledge and change. We are the people who staunchly defend every age and stage of children’s lives as they move through them as individuals. We are the antithesis of the “one size fits all” mentality of retail or of education, and we make every interaction about just that reader, not anyone else.
Serve as both sheltering walls and opened windows to young people, offering them both the comfort  of “just the right book” at the right time, but not threatened or judgmental by their need to find something new and strange. We are the extra adult in their lives, the ones who can offer answers to questions that are too difficult to say out loud, but can be satisfied by a stack of titles that they might find helpful.
Bring authors and readers together, in ways that are so real and personal they change the lives (and the stories) of both groups. There is no more powerful connection for me that the moment that I put a book into a young person’s hands when that very author is a personal friend, or I can tell the story in the writer’s own words of why or how the book was written. Even more special is standing nearby (with an encouraging nod and a little push forward) as I introduce a young reader to their favorite author, knowing that I’m not only watching a wish granted for the reader, but filling the heart and soul of the author by showing them just how their writing is at work in the world.
Creating a physical space for families. There are not that many places in our communities that families can visit together without a ticket or membership card, and even fewer that allow them to linger, to laugh, to browse, and to be made welcome just for stopping by. Libraries do this, of course, but they require a card and often separate children and adults by floors or departments. The intimacy of our stores (admittedly, I continue to plot ways to get just 40 more shelf feet into YA) create a shared adventure for families, even as older kids are drawn into alcoves and younger siblings circle the train table, while parents are suddenly hands-free to browse those beautiful face-out non-fiction titles or select the next bedtime read-aloud.
Supporting parents by offering events, a listening ear, and a safe warm place where actual sentences are spoken. If you have ever been at home daily with a house full of toddlers and preschoolers, there’s really nothing else that I need to say to describe the balm of an adult conversation in the midst of the “twos and threes and no sleep” years. If you haven’t had that experience, I will remind you that indeed, pajamas are clothing, baseball caps are a hairstyle, and THAT’S JUST SPIT UP and it won’t hurt anything.
Keeping on. In this dizzying world of retail change, with many chains closing while others redefine, while big box stores dip in and out of bookselling, while online options for purchase increase weekly and the very existence of print on paper is questioned, we keep on. We order frontlist, we stock backlist, and we read everything in between. We host events and flex our word processing skills to create physical order forms for author school visits, and then ignore the printed due dates on them for fill orders for each and every child. We creatively partner with community groups, cajole our employees to work offsite events, and pitch publicists with ideas for more author visits. We flip over that OPEN sign every day, scribble hundreds of shelf talkers, and stay up late typing store newsletters. We keep going. And that is our resolve for 2018. We will do all of these things just as well as we did last year. 

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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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