We had a blessedly rainy day this week – a balm for our sunburned souls; for bookstores, as you know, flourish in the rain. My dear friend and colleague Jessilyn Norcross, from the renowned McLean and Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., once told me that ideally, every summer week will begin with a sunny forecast, so that the tourists will leave the city and venture up north to visit, but then include a cloudy or rainy Tuesday or Wednesday, forcing everyone off the lake and into town. Then, Friday needs to be sunny again to leave everyone with great vacation memories and reservations for a return trip, but that middle-of-the-week gloom is just perfect for both summer holidays and commerce. Sales are brisk on rainy days, as precipitation grows both crabgrass and chapter readers, green beans and graphic novel sales. Here’s a little peek into our rainy day at the shop.
RING – RING – RING “4 Kids Books & Toys, this is Cynthia. How can I help?…..oh, hi, Marybeth! Yes, we have Stories and Snacks at 10:30 today. Let’s see… the muffins this week are blueberry and chocolate chip, and some of those little cinnamon rolls, so you don’t need to pack snacks. Yes, of course if it’s still raining just pull up outside and run the kids in before you park the car. We’re happy to watch them. See you soon.”
RING – RING “4 Kids Books and Toys, this is – yes, we do have an event today. There’s a story time at 10:30, and no reservations are required. Sure, we’ll have room.”
RING “4 Kids Books & Toys, this – hi, there! No, you need to keep driving a little bit further up Michigan Road. We’re TWO turns past the Kroger…. can you see the bank? There you go! No worries, see you soon.”
As the morning crowd of preschoolers circled the playtables, and the moms sipped venti iced coffees and caught up on kindergarten placements for fall, and we shifted piles of boxes away from the front door, where Mark, our veteran UPS delivery driver, had stacked them early, knowing that the back door, which exits from our party/event room, needed to stay unobstructed for story time. There’s something about rain that increases deliveries, like a magnetic pull between damp cardboard boxes and a humidity-fearing bookstore, or maybe I’m just overly concerned with warped pages and slippery floors. Either way, it looked like a LOT of receiving ahead for the afternoon crew, and I anticipated several conversations with staff along the lines of “where, exactly, do we PUT this?” Noting a new, unassembled fixture in one of the large boxes, I made a mental note to send out for lunch, and maybe plug in the cordless screwdriver to charge right away.
Mrs. Patrick stopped in just as we were herding kids back for stories. Her seven grandchildren are visiting this weekend, and she needs “just a little something for each of them,” which turned into a book apiece, two copies of a family game (so they can take one home, you know), a 500-piece puzzle to do on the coffee table, and a collection of impulse items to tuck into her purse for entertaining youngsters at the restaurant dinner out she had planned. We enjoyed the latest round of pictures on her phone, and tucked an event calendar into her bag, just in case the rainy weather continues and she needs additional entertainment options for the visit. “Oh!” she said, as we swiped her credit card, “my daughter-in-law is pregnant again! We should pick out something for the new baby, too. He won’t be born until September, but it’s good to start the library early, don’t you think?”
Samantha pulled up outside along the sidewalk – I recognized her big white SUV and her aversion to wasting time hunting a space in the parking lot – she almost always dashes in and out of the store between dropping off her kids at various activities. She began circling the store and grabbing all the squishy, highly tactile sensory items, and making a stack on the front counter. “This is for my son, you know, with autism. Can you think of anything else?” I raised one eyebrow and nodded at one of my staffers, who was already sorting through the squishy bin looking for dinosaurs, while I headed to the animal section to pull books on elephants – those are Ben’s favorites.
Story time was ending, and the crowd at the register needed help. There’s about a 10-minute window after story time before everyone has just HAD ENOUGH and are no longer their best selves in public, so our goal is always to shower them with attention and very responsive service after an event, both to maximize sales and prevent meltdowns…. mostly from the parents. Quite serendipitously, a firetruck pulled up in front of the dentist next door (no sirens, so I expect they were beginning their annual visit to inspect fire extinguishers and keys left in the building access box) but it drew all the kids to the windows, and then outside to meet the firefighters, who graciously shook hands and found some official badge stickers to distribute.
Lunch business was brisk, as lots more business people seem to go out for lunch when it’s raining, and there was a steady flow of adults in ties waiting for their lunch date to arrive at the restaurant next door. It’s not uncommon for us to make 2-3 trips over to the restaurant during a busy lunch hour to deliver wrapped packages to customers who purchased while waiting for a table, and we’re pretty good at weaving between waitstaff carrying trays to quietly slip our bags under the tablecloth. Sometimes I carry little wind-up toys to leave behind for the bartenders and hostesses, which turn into “carrot cake insurance” – late night dessert deliveries when I’m working very late in the 4th quarter of the year.
Peg and her daughter Megan stopped in the afternoon, and Peg pulled me aside and asked if Megan could hang out for a bit while her mother was getting her teeth cleaned next door. Megan is 13 years old, and just finished 8th grade as a home schooler. She’s an avid reader, and has been part of our summer Young Adult Reader Review program for several years. As we pursued the ARC shelf together, I asked her about her plans for fall, as her mother had mentioned that she’s considering enrolling in the public high school. This would be a big change after three years at home, and as we talked about books and showed each other upcoming titles that we had already reviewed (and I realized that she’s WAY AHEAD OF ME on fall reading, and her opinions on YA trends were much more clarified than mine) the conversation turned to high school, and what “regular kids” are like. “You ARE a regular kid,” I offered, “but I get it. Would you like to look at some books about high school? Maybe some books about freshmen girls? And freshmen boys? And then you can make a list of things that you could still read this summer.” Peg returned from the dentist just as we completed her daughter’s stack, and like the very best kind of mom, just handed over her credit card and shared a quick smile. I tucked a couple of ARCs inside the bag, and thought to myself what a gift our customers give us when they entrust the reading lives of their children to our little shop.
And in rain, or in sunshine, we bloom and grow alongside their families.
RING – RING – RING “4 Kids Books & Toys, this is Cynthia. How can I help?……… Yes, we DO have an event tomorrow. We’re hosting Stories and Play at 10:30… can you join us?”