Things Not to Do in a Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - September 30, 2013

Every once in a while I like to make a list of things customers might want to think twice about doing when they come to a bookstore. This list is not intended to make anyone feel bad, but rather is a helpful guide to ensure the best shopping experience possible.
– If your children are hungry, tired or sick and you’re not in a position to buy them a book, maybe the library is a better place to go. I totally understand that families can’t always buy books when they come to the store, but bringing in a passel of kids before lunch and asking them to browse for what they might like for Christmas just seems a little mean.
– Don’t apologize for not knowing the title of what you’re looking for. Something happens the minute people enter a bookstore: they forget almost immediately what they’ve come in for. We’re used to puzzling out what you’re looking. In fact we like the challenge. It’s our job and we’re happy to do it.
– Please respect the no food in the bookstore rule. We aren’t being capricious, we’re trying to protect books from sticky fingers, so that every book remains gift-worthy. We’re happy to let you enjoy your snack on the deck and then welcome you into the store. Our store is next to a bakery and a candy shop, so this can be challenging.
– If you’re in a massive hurry, please don’t take that out on us. We all do the best we can to speed you along, but sometimes staffers are busy with other customers. Calling ahead is hugely helpful. If we have time we can get your book – usually it’s a present for a party that starts NOW – wrapped and ready to be picked up fairly effortlessly. A tiny bit of planning can make shopping fun and easy.
– Please don’t feel sheepish about reading a book to your kids. We love that. And we’re not listening, too much. Nothing makes me happier than hearing a lively story read aloud and a small child laughing and interacting with her parents and the book.
– Don’t whisper. We’re not a library. It’s totally fine to have lively conversations about books when you’re here.
– Don’t talk on your cell phone in the store, especially when we’re ringing you up. It’s rude.
– Don’t assume we can’t get your book. We can’t have every book in stock and sometimes we’re just out of the “hot” book. Most indies get books in every day and we’re happy to do our best for you.
– Don’t be shy about telling us about a book that you love. We value your opinion and enjoy hearing about books you enjoy. I’m not a big history reader, so I rely on my customers’ savvy to help me with that section. We welcome your input.
– Lastly, don’t be a stranger to the bricks and mortar store. Some of you might have lovely relationships with your e-readers, but all indies need your help. So, buy a few books from us as well. While you might not miss yet, you would if we were closed, so help us stay in business by buying e-books from us and getting the occasional physical book from us. A shift of a few book purchases from Amazon or other online retailers can help us more than you know. We won’t make you feel bad, I promise, we’ll just be happy to see you again.

20 thoughts on “Things Not to Do in a Bookstore

  1. Sheilah

    People don’t whisper in libraries either anymore. And we too love lively conversations about books. What we are less fond of are hungry, tired or sick children.

  2. Carol Chittenden

    DO let your enjoyment show: it makes us feel so good to know you like our store.
    DO ask us questions about books, about the town, about the store.
    DO be a friend and a good guest. We love having you visit, we want you to enjoy your time with us.

  3. James

    Thanks for the recommendation to send the hungry, tired and sick kids to the library. I can’t tell you how much fun that makes our days. Some of us work in libraries. We’d like some of the same consideration.
    We’re happy to have books waiting for you if you need something – just call ahead. And, like a bookseller, we’re used to figuring out book titles or even picking things out for you if you don’t know what you want but need /something/

    1. Josie Leavitt

      Hi James,
      I totally understand your comment. My point was really, if your kids are starving or sick, maybe just stay home with them. Inflicting ailing kids on any establishment is never fun for them or the establishment. I really meant that if you know you can’t buy a book, the library might be a fun place to go because the kids can leave with a book.

    2. Ellen Scott

      A better recommendation on the “tired and hungry” issue would seem to be to take the child home immediately, feed him and put him down for a nap!!


    “- Don’t whisper. We’re not a library. It’s totally fine to have lively conversations about books when you’re here.
    – Don’t talk on your cell phone in the store, especially when we’re ringing you up. It’s rude.”
    Two sentences which seem to contradict each other. I wondered why you would even ring me up in the first place while I was in your store, and how I was supposed to answer the call without talking on my cell phone. I supposed I could use my landline but I didn’t think the cord would reach even the nearest book store to me, much less across the Atlantic. I eventually guessed you meant ‘ringing up’ my purchases.
    But your rudeness allegation is still a bum rap. Last time I was in a bookstore I indeed had a lively (though not loud) conversation about books, with a friend who just happened to be somewhere else. I had no problem including the checkout guy in the conversation. Neither did he.
    Good advice otherwise. I’m a Reverse Showroomer. I see books online and buy them in bricks and mortar bookstores!

    1. Josie Leavitt Post author

      My comment about rudeness and the cell phone at the register is that talking on your phone while someone is waiting on you is rude. It’s treating the person behind the register with a lack of common courtesy.

      1. Lynne

        This happens at our bookstore too … pretty frequently! I can even be mid-sentence in asking the customer a question, their phone rings, and without even saying ‘excuse me’ they answer the phone and start talking, leaving me hanging mid-sentence. It’s not only rude to the human being on the other side of the counter, it also shows disregard to the next person(s) in line, who now gets to wait as well.

  5. John

    I echo James’s observation on the advice to bringing the unhappy children to the library. Many parents, unfortunately, think that their public library is also a daycare center where they can drop off their kids to be looked after by kindly librarians who have nothing else better to do. I’d say if your kids are hungry, tired, or sick, they should stay at home so they can be fed, put to bed, and cared for.

  6. Roberta

    As much as I detest e-readers and e-books, has it occurred to you people that making lists of rules for customers is a good way to send them away from a brick-and-mortar store and to buy their books online? I can order a book online while neutralizing a cranky kid, eating a snack, and talking on my cell phone all at once, and nobody will judge me for having insufficient manners.
    You are not making shopping at an indie bookstore sound like a fun adventure by publicizing your lists of pet peeves. You’re making it sound like too much work and too little welcome. Especially all these “don’t feel this, don’t feel that” injunctions. (And why would I want you to order a book for me, unless I have no clue how to use a computer?)

    1. Kathy

      Because if you order a book from the bookstore it’s more likely the bookstore will be there next week to talk to you about all the wonderful books they carry that you might not find when you are neutralizing a cranky kid, eating a snack and talking on your cell phone. Booksellers are professionals who work very hard to make sure you know about all those wonderful titles that might never make the bestseller lists.

  7. JessB

    Ha, what a great, fun article, with some excellent real-life tips!
    Mobile phones weren’t as prevalent when I worked in retail (10 years ago) but my best friend says she finds it very off-putting when customers make calls while at the register. There’s a certain level of conversation that needs to take place- clarifying the returns policy, asking ‘savings or credit?’, and ‘paper or plastic?’, etc. It just seems polite to me to stay engaged in that conversation- by the same token, I don’t want the person behind the counter continuing a conversation with a colleague about their plans for the weekend, while I stand there like an eavesdropper!
    Josie, I understand what you’re saying about taking tired out kids to the library when you’re a parent on a budget! Rather than create an issue for the kids to get upset about by waving beautiful new books in front of them, and then having to walk out without a single one, going to the library is a much better option! Most librarians work hard to make sure they have the latest books out on display, and they have a great range of backlist titles that might be trickier to find at your local bookstore. Excellent advice, I think!
    I also love Carol’s point- let your enjoyment show! It’s such a nice feeling.

  8. Tera

    As a librarian I have to echo James and Sheilah; hungry, tired or sick children will be just as hungry, tired or sick in a library, and everyone (kids, parents, other library patrons) will be miserable. Please don’t recommend that as an alternative!

  9. Kirsten

    Absolutely loved your comment “Please don’t feel sheepish about reading a book to your kids. We love that. And we’re not listening, too much. Nothing makes me happier than hearing a lively story read aloud and a small child laughing and interacting with her parents and the book.” – nothing is better!
    I will ADD to it- then make sure you buy one (or more) of those books!

  10. Rachel

    I know it’s been said, but I definitely want to echo the sentiment about libraries basically getting a bad rap here. Like the author is implying that libraries are second best. I like indie bookstores as much as the next book lover, but as a librarian, please note that we are struggling to keep our doors open just like you, but we’re doing it out of a sheer love of the books on our shelves. I want people to own books, definitely, but what we really all ought to care about is that people LOVE books, whether they’re from bookstores or Amazon or your public library.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      As a former librarian myself, it would kill me to think that librarians think that our bookstore doesn’t value them as the highest and best book destinations possible. Josie’s post was worded casually and I think her intentions were misread. We both adore libraries and librarians and the incredible service they provide generations of readers!

  11. Avid Reader

    I agree with most of these and I do try to support our local bookstore. However my most recent purchase was $10 more in the brick and morter store than it was on the same companies website. I saved the s10 and only had to wait 3 days. I even asked about matching a price on their own website and they refused.

    1. Amy

      I am amazed that you did NOT put not bring unpaid merchandise into the restroom…..just like the Seinfeld episode


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