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Cicadas and Spreadsheets

Cynthia Compton -- May 10th, 2021

Our team at 4 Kids Books is spreadsheet-friendly, to say the least. With remote staffers managing customer service issues, online orders, and inventory levels (how many backlist orders are due this month? All. Of. Them.), curbside pickups, delivery routes and social media campaigns, the amount of hourly communication between workers at home and workers on the shop floor would wear out our texting thumbs by Tuesday of each week. So instead, every single category of bookseller tasks in our store, it seems, is logged into a separate shared document with fields for everything from receiving (Ingram is delayed again, call the special orders) to damages (three cartons of bruised random titles from four publishers awaiting credit or call tags at the back door), gift wrapping instructions (all of the Mulhaney bag is for a 4 year old girl who likes green), and special order requests (someone please source 28 copies of an early reader about summer for a teacher who needs end-of-year gifts, and who has a total budget of $30). It all works remarkably well for the staff, and they rarely flinch as a customer pulls up outside in their car, honks, and texts, “I’m here to pick up my order” to the store phone with no other identifying info. (“Oh, that’s Olsen. See the dog sitting in the car seat? It’s a beagle named Larry Bird, look on the sheet. Here’s her bag, but be sure that you staple it. One of the items is a birthday gift for their son from his grandma – that’s a secret.”)

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Book Remembrances

Kenny Brechner -- May 6th, 2021

The present, left to its own devices, has all the innate narcissism of a toddler.  A healthy, progressive present requires a bit of parenting from the past. With that in mind, I called for book remembrances from our customers to help mark DDG’s 30th anniversary. Here are some remembrances that were sent in and what I learned from them.

Long-term relationships help frame pressing current events. Consider this comment from Maine’s Governor, and 30-year DDG customer, Janet Mills.

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Whistling While We Work

Cynthia Compton -- May 3rd, 2021

Heigh ho! If your store or office is re-opening this month, welcome back. If you are expanding services to reach customers in some new or additional way, I salute your unflagging energy and commitment to bookselling. If, however, you’re one of us approaching a first-year anniversary (or six-month celebration, or three-month star on your calendar) of this Grimm model of retail which involves marketing and delivering books on every platform INCLUDING in-store sales, then this post is mostly for you, and you might nod ruefully, and add your own cringeworthy comments from customers as I reveal the SEVEN DWARVES OF CUSTOMERS (and a few of the spells… er, I mean happy tunes I whistle behind my mask in response).

Our first customer of the day, whom we’ll call Dopey, leads with: “Oh, you’re still here!” This brilliant observation is often followed by the well-intentioned but equally tone-deaf: “I was worried that businesses like this wouldn’t survive!” Thanks, buddy. Yes, we’re still here, and while we understand your worry, we seemed to have somehow managed. How can we be of help today? I’m sure that what our short-on-tact friend means is “Oh, thank goodness, you survived without me, and I don’t have to be inconvenienced or feel guilty, but I still get to shop locally and be part of the recovery (and the free gift wrap).”

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The Fun of the Virtual Booktalk

Meghan Dietsche Goel -- April 30th, 2021

If you had told me when I posted my last blog that I wouldn’t be writing another one for 13 months, I wouldn’t have believed you. I won’t lie, it’s been (and continues to be) a scramble as we’ve adapted every process and every approach to every single thing that we do—along with the rest of you. But here we are, and it feels nice to settle back into a routine where we can take a minute to write down what’s on our bookselling minds again.

Our virtual-oriented lives haven’t been all bad, of course. Seeing my colleagues’ home offices, living rooms, kitchens, porches, rambunctious DOGS (including my new one) and crazy KIDS (also mine, who inevitably barge in just when it’s my turn to talk) come and go this past year has offered neat glimpses into each others’ lives—and, I think, has brought us all a little closer. Something about the impact of a shared experience, I’m sure.

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Slithering Reflectiveness

Kenny Brechner -- April 28th, 2021

On May 1st DDG is marking its 30th anniversary, a circumstance which has, one fears, put me in a deucedly reflective state. Three decades is a terrifyingly long stretch of me being the constant to an array of variables around the bookstore. This unseemly reflectiveness is not only suffusing anniversary stuff, like these Book Remembrances from customers, and my 30 Books of the Years, but it is seeping out here too, in true horror movie fashion, as ShelfTalker lurches back onto the rails and we ShelfTalkers cast our minds back over this last year.

To keep this slithering reflectiveness somewhat in check we are going to restrict this post to a single element.  One of the things I look forward to most as a buyer is making discoveries that become store favorites. Here are three favorite discoveries made during the pandemic.

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The Opposite of Hibernating

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 27th, 2021

Hello, long-lost friends of ShelfTalker! It’s hard to believe that, after 10 years of blogging for PW, it’s now been over a year since my last post. Catching up with the last 14 months of what it’s been like to be a bookseller during the pandemic seems almost impossible, like running into a friend you haven’t seen in 20 years and trying to figure out how to compress your life since you last saw them into a succinct and palatable blurb. Instead of doing that, let me lure you in with this lamb:

This is Thumbelina, the sweet lamb our wonderful customers
Julie and Maeve bring to the Flying Pig for visits.

We all have so many stories to share from every sphere of our lives during this time, from the early overwhelm of overturning our personal and work lives to meet the demands of Covid, to the loneliness and sometime terrors of those early months last winter and spring, to the roller coaster of hopes and despairs over the virus and the political scene and the stresses to our children’s education and social systems, to the blossoming of expanded efforts to work toward social justice, from the lengthy unsettling circus of the election to the hopes of restored calm, from the promise of the vaccine to the absolute chaos of January 6, and on and on and on, into the particular circumstances of our today and tomorrow and the next day.

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The Ten Best Ideas We Had Last Year

Cynthia Compton -- April 26th, 2021

As promised in last week’s Springing Back to the Blog and the Bookstore, I’m sharing my laundry list of business adaptations at 4 Kids Books & Toys for the perilous last year, in hopes that some of it might still be useful to your business, and that you’ll be prompted to share your best storefront retail brainstorms with the rest of us. While I can’t avoid referencing some of the reasons that we made these changes during the pandemic era in today’s post, I hereby pledge to avoid all of the tired, overused, often triggering buzzwords that I have mentally added to the dustbin, those cringeworthy Covid-era terms like “before-times,” “unprecedented,” and “challenging” as well as the shudder-inducing “new normal,” “agile,” and the absolute verb workhorse of the five-years-of-2020: “pivot.” Be gone, all of you. Let’s look ahead at the 3rd quarter of 2021, turn our faces toward the sunshine, and remember and the things we’ve done that were smart.

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Two Pandemic Book Moments

Kenny Brechner -- April 22nd, 2021

Virginia Woolf, in a letter to Vita Sackville-West, reflected on the tenor of the prior evening which they had spent together.  They had met in person after a long, event-filled separation. She compared their surprisingly quiet and banal reunion to a full jug of water with a narrow opening which when turned suddenly upside down has nothing come out. They had, Woolf observed, trouble finding anything to say because there was too much to talk about. So it is with this pandemic year. Too much has happened.

One moment getting designated an essential business is life and death, a month later it is irrelevant. When I think of what will remain in mind, I reflect that the very things we miss the most were also the most painful when present. Here are two examples.

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Springing Back to the Blog and the Bookstore

Cynthia Compton -- April 19th, 2021

The daffodils are blooming, the clumps of mud from soccer cleats are multiplying on the floor like the teetering number of volumes in our damaged book bin in the back room, and everyone on staff is sneezing behind their masks – ahh, spring in the Heartland, and how I’ve missed the sunshine of your friendship, dear colleagues!  Just like those brave and cheerful blooms, I’m peeking out to post this week and rejoice that the warmth of spring and the end of a long Covid winter lets us all spend some time together, politely distanced but hopeful, dreaming of summer and future reunions.

Our brave little spring display behind the counter this week (not including the books to be shelved)

Here’s a little welcome back, by way of a Saturday shift with me in the shop. Put on your comfortable shoes (or ANY shoes) and let’s get to work.

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