Our store is getting busier, and I’m sure that yours is, too. Lots of regular customers have stopped by with their children to fill out their holiday wish lists, and parents return in the evening hours sans kiddos to start or finish their gift shopping. We love to see all these families, of course, and it’s gratifying to be part of their annual holiday traditions. Some kids keep lists “on file” with us, so that we know just where they are in a favorite series, and some send us notes or text us* about books they want to read. Some parents (on our advice) snap pictures of their children’s bookshelves on their smartphones, or send emails to their children’s classroom teachers for clues about books that their kids are really excited about. Grandparents often carry in lists clipped from newspapers, magazines, and printed out from websites, with titles carefully circled based on age recommendations from the lists. All of these methods are great, and demonstrate not only commitment to keeping their kids excited about reading, but an ongoing partnership with us to be their personal bookish elves.
We have the once-a-year customers, too, who drop by exclaiming “You’re still here! Oh, good. You were so helpful last year — you still gift wrap, right? And it’s free?” While it’s tempting to respond that “yes, we are — we’ve MISSED you…. we thought you were dead or something,” it’s probably best to just gently welcome them back and ask about which kids they are buying for this year.
The holiday customers who try our bookselling patience, however, are those rare or first-time visitors who come in and recite our least-favorite conversational openers. Here, just to vent a bit, I thought I would make a list of our least favorite “Chreaster Customer**” lines, and perhaps if we are the ones to utter them first, we won’t have to hear them again this season. So, let’s hear it for:
“OH! This store is so CUTE! Isn’t this CUTE? How can you stand it? It’s just so CUTE! What a cute place to work! Oh, look, Helen! Isn’t this book just CUTE! This is just the cutest thing.”
“I could never, ever bring my kids in here. They’d go nuts.”
“So, are you going to be getting busy soon?
“So, do you have any books?” (this one is delivered with a smile and expectant pause… because clearly, we are expected to laugh. We smile, because it’s just easier.)
“How’s business? Do you do well here?”
“I would love to work in a bookstore. I bet you just read all day. What an easy job.”
“Does anyone really read books anymore?”
“I need to find a book that you probably don’t have. No one does.”
“I bet you’re going to be busy soon.”
“We have SO MANY children’s books. I kept all my kids’ books from when they were little. They are grown now. We never need to buy any more.”
“Do you get all these from Amazon?”
“My kids have outgrown reading. They are so busy. And when they are finally home, they are always playing video games.”
“What’s the price of these books?
“Do you guys have those books where your kid’s name is in them? How about those ones where you record someone reading the book? No? I saw those at the fair, I think. You should get those.”
“My sister wrote a book. Do you have it? She has a bunch left in her garage. You should talk to her. She might be willing to come in and sign some.”
“I saw this book on TV and it was supposed to be the best book for kids this year. Do you have it?”
“So, are you getting busy?”
Let’s hope that you don’t even hear the last question over the ringing of the register, the chatter of excited customers, and the jingle of the bells on your door as new visitors enter. If you do, may it be followed by “May I place a large order to pick up next week?” and “We are looking for a local bookstore to buy all our employees holiday gifts this year — do you offer gift cards?” If not, may your patience never waver, your smile never shrink, and that holiday music be just catchy enough that you’re singing along rather than listening to any of the above conversational brilliance.
*I mention texting because we just replaced our store landline telephone service with a mobile phone, and were able to keep our number. We can now send and receive texts from the store phone, which is very helpful, and less cumbersome than other methods we have tried for customer communication.
**Chreaster is the Sunday school nickname for folks that attend church only on Christmas and Easter. As booksellers, I’m sure you see the parallels in those seeking literary salvation.