Why Booksellers Do What They Do

Cynthia Compton - May 9, 2018

My colleague Elizabeth Bluemle wrote a lovely post yesterday entitled Why Children’s Books Creators Do What They Do, and little parts of it echoed in my head today as I moved through a list of events and errands for and at the shop. I’m going to borrow her idea and extend it a bit (even though she, too, runs a bookstore and does many of the same tasks – WHEN do you find time to make books, Elizabeth? – I struggle to find time to READ every day!) because her post made me think about all the reasons I love owning a bookstore.

Tuesdays at 4 Kids bring new releases, just as they do for booksellers everywhere. It is my habit to arrive early on this day, several hours before we open, in order to put out new displays, set up faceouts of new titles, and tape shelftalkers on the spots in front of books that I want to make sure are seen and appreciated. (OK, I write a lot of shelftalkers on Tuesday mornings, too – I can’t be the only one who does this!) Putting up new displays means taking down older ones, and this chore is much more fun than it sounds. Sliding titles into a shelf is an excuse to pull almost-forgotten midlist gems, page through last season’s big hits, and pull a personal favorite or two just a hair further forward toward the edge of the shelf than the others….. my staff calls this behavior “playing librarian,” and I was guilty, guilty, guilty of it today. Ostensibly I was choosing titles for Stories and Snacks,(Paint-a-Story Mondays… or, The Messier the Better) our weekly gathering of preschoolers for 3-4 books and a convivial gathering for muffins and juice.
Today our story time brought a bigger crowd than usual, with lots of grandmothers looking for an activity for their charges before a visit to the park, some lunch and a hoped-for nap. We moved through a selection of picture books on Moms and munched on muffins while we colored and stickered cards for Mother’s Day. Sitting at the table, sharing markers and gluesticks reminded me of another favorite part of my job – the opportunity to talk with children without a lesson plan to complete, a skill to teach, or a game to win. We can just spend time together, and “Mrs. Lady Cynthia” (as one young friend calls me) can hear all about the new baby, the frog that is living in the window well, and yesterday’s soccer game “where we weren’t the winnest, but we scoreded a lot, and we got snacks.”
After story time I gathered several tote bags and headed out to drop by some area schools with some ARC’s for media specialists and a big stack of flyers about our summer reading program. We are hugely fortunate to live in a community with lots of elementary schools, all of whom have a welcoming attitude towards independent bookstores. As I left the office at our closest neighborhood school, I was greeted by a mom who had just arrived to have lunch with her son. “Oh, can you join us?” she asked. “Kieran would love to see you – what a fun surprise!” So I quickly restuck my sticker VISITOR tag back on my shirt and headed in to the cafe-gymna-torium with her to eat chicken nuggets and carrot sticks with a group of third graders…. all of whom told me about what they are reading AND the illicit picture that was drawn on the marker board in their classroom while they were at recess today. (Yes, it was a body part. No, not a girl body part.)
My errands after lunch included a quick stop at a local nursing home to drop off some puzzles – we donate both slightly dented picture books and puzzles to a senior living facility nearby. Perhaps it was because of my just finished conversation about the “bits and pieces” of male anatomy that it seemed even more humorous when I was greeted in the lobby by a resident with a walker headed to the dayroom…. without his trousers. He wasn’t the least bit concerned about the breeze around his boxers, and so we had a lovely chat about the birds that are nesting in the courtyard as we walked together toward the activity room to drop off my stack. Several residents were gathered there waiting for a Bingo game to begin, so we looked at the books I brought for a few minutes, and one lady asked if I could bring her some poetry next time, in “bigger print, you know, dear.” Promising a return visit soon, I left thinking about all the stories to be heard in that one building, and the ease with which I can just drop in to hear them, with or without pants.
Several texts from store staff in rapid succession made me rethink my plan to visit the bank and the office supply store, but I made one quick stop at the ice cream shop to pick up coupons they are offering for our summer reading program participants (and a scoop of butter pecan). Partnership with other local businesses is another perk of this career. Finding ways to support each other, marketing events and sponsoring local happenings may seem small in the face of the onslaught of online behemoths, but the friendships forged as we celebrate our anniversaries and lease renewals are bricks in a strong little wall circling our community.
It was, indeed, time to return to the store, as a big stack of deliveries had arrived, a new fixture needed to be built and found room for on the floor, and books pulled for an educator conference offsite tomorrow. The variety of tasks our business involves is one of its joys, even while the “to do” list seems never ending. There are so many facets to our business that one could choose to do something different every day, and still find tasks that need delegating and expertise from others to complete. Certainly, the boxes need unpacking and the receiving looms ever large, and the stacks of paperwork to process (BATCH…. please…. BATCH) are never-ending, but the challenges of each and every season are fresh and new. And there, Elizabeth and friends, there is my reason. I love bookselling because it is never boring. It is always challenging, sometimes fun, sometimes lonely, and sometimes too crowded, but it is never, ever dull.
“And while we are not always the winnest, we scoreded at lot. And there were snacks.”

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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.

7 thoughts on “Why Booksellers Do What They Do

  1. Deb Gruelle

    Thank you, Cynthia! Where would we children’s authors be without enthusiastic children’s bookstore owners like you? Our communities would also lack the richness that you infuse in them. Thank you for your career choice!

  2. Elizabeth Bluemle

    Aw, Cynthia, that was a delightful post! You always capture so many of the marvelous moments of our careers, with so much humor and heart.

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      Everything I know I Learned from….. ….fellow ABC folk. (and echoes of @avindomnitz)

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      Thanks, Sara. Much love to you and all the McClean & Eakin team, especially Edie the wonder dog.


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