Playing Chicken with the Summer Tourists

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 30, 2017

Most kids are still in school here in Vermont, but summer has started in other parts of the country, so we are in the teeter zone. These are the few weeks in between our slower season, when one or two staffers can handle the store alone, and the tourist season, when we really need three or four.
In the teeter zone, we’re playing a dangerous game of guessing when we can be lean on the sales floor and in the back room. In late springtime, this is especially true, since staffers need time off for travel and graduations and other activities, and staffers are also out of the store working offsite events. So you make deals with each other: you take this shift, I’ll take that one, and you just hope that your gamble on the shifts that leave one person alone will work out. Selling books isn’t quite as hectic trading on Wall Street, but it can be surprisingly crazy when you’re solo. (Cynthia’s recent post is dead-on about what a typical bookstore day looks like.) This weekend, there were consequences to the gamble, and my teeter tottered the wrong way.

Sundays are comparatively quiet days at the store, so Emily and I weren’t too worried when we struck a deal. Getting a precious extra day off is such a rare treat, I couldn’t resist the offer: she took last Sunday for me, and I worked alone this Sunday so she could relax with rubber legs after running the half marathon in Burlington. I’d checked our sales numbers last year the Sunday before Memorial Day; it was a big day, but we’d held a sale. I didn’t plan that same sale for this year, so I figured I’d have some patches of time for paperwork, bill paying, comparing our returns with our credits, etc. WRONG!
The door never stopped opening and closing all day long. We had tourists from Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York, along with tons of Vermont families. I was answering phones, wrapping presents, recommending books — the most fun was to a large family of seven, where I was running from graphic novels to early readers to adult nonfiction to YA fantasy and back again — for a crazy five hours.
One of my favorite customers was the ninth-grader from Colorado, who unselfconsciously asked for YA books that “aren’t too confusing” because she’s dyslexic and loves books but struggles with reading. I showed her lots of great titles, but in the end, she chose The Book Thief, one of my all-time favorite books, but one I hadn’t recommended because I thought it might be a challenge given her request. It made me so happy that her desire for rich reading was her highest consideration, and I hope she loves the book. I mentioned that it’s also fantastic on audio, so she might consider reading and listening together.
It was also fun to meet a young woman who had interned for Candlewick and is hoping to get a full-time job there. I love it when publishing and bookselling people come into the store; they pay attention to different things from regular customers, and it’s great to talk shop.
There were a few times when the line was three people long, but fortunately, folks were in a holiday mood, very relaxed and happy to play with our demo fidget spinner while waiting.
When I told Emily how busy it had been, she felt bad, but she didn’t need to. It was a blast. I’ve done this bookselling thing for 20 years, and I’d better be able to handle a busy day on my own now and again. I wouldn’t wish it on my staff, probably, but since we have a couple more weeks of playing chicken with the tourists before summer staffing kicks in, we’ll see what happens.
P.S. My don’t-miss reading recommendation for the day: an interview with the always lively, funny, and articulate MT Anderson by The Reading Lists and a powerful post by the fabulous Laura Ruby over at The Nerdy Book Club.

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