Shark Warning

Cynthia Compton - July 29, 2019

It’s SHARK WEEK! No, this is a not technically a literary occasion or gift-giving holiday, but booksellers can turn anything into a reason for display and promotion, can’t we? Of course we can!

Our behind-the-counter display this week at 4 Kids Books… thanks to staffer Haley.

Shark Week is a television network holiday (like Sweeps Week or Season Finale Week or the annual airing of all the Christmas specials), and was premiered back in 1988 by the Discovery Channel, originally devoted to educating viewers about sharks, promoting conservation efforts, and taking full advantage of the interests of summertime beach-bound viewers. Over the years, as it returns each July or early August, Shark Week has developed an identity — a life motto of character Tracy Jordan on NBC’s 30 Rock “to live every week like it’s Shark Week,” and the blessing of Stephen Colbert, naming it “one of the two holiest holidays alongside Christmas.”

From our friends at Schylling, a harmless little leg chomping impulse item.

Well, it’s not as good as Santa for ringing up sales in the bookstore, but Shark Week is certainly another theme for displays, story times, crafts and promotional events. And this year, as I counted titles that I could put face-out on bookstands and carefully cut out grey construction paper fins to decorate the windows, I began think about all the other sharks in the bookselling waters…. those silent predatory creatures who glide just beneath the surface of our happy bookselling beaches. I felt, as a full-fledged supporter of this and any pretend holiday that I can use to SELL MORE STUFF, that I owed an obligatory safety warning to all my fellow booksellers. So here, before you go back in the water to sell books this week…. are the 5 deadliest terrors of the bookshop deep:

From Gamewright, the classic food chain game CHOMP.

The GREAT WHITE RETURNER: You will see this predator from far away, as she glides into the parking lot, exits her car with YOUR BAG IN HER HANDS, and makes her way determinedly to your doorstep. There is no hiding from this shark, and she will not be satisfied by the sacrifice of your junior staff members, who can’t process her return “without the permission of my manager.” You must bravely face this sharp- toothed monster yourself, as she pulls every single item from her bag, demanding a full refund. One book will be “a repeat, he’s already read it” and the dogeared corners of the volume will hint that this former reading happened over the last two days (the receipt will be three days old). Another will be “inappropriate for a 7th grade girl” — strange, given that this same girl has been shopping in your Young Adult section for two years, and LOVED the first volume in this series… but consider this simply collateral damage to your Z- tape. The final CHOMP of her jaws will grind your spirit to bait size as she proclaims that ALL TWENTY SIX of the token gifts that her child selected for her school classmates to be given at the end-of-year party and that she demanded you gift wrap, individually, and label by gender on an incredibly busy day in May, just before Mother’s Day…. even though each item was only $1.99 and SHE ASKED FOR A VOLUME DISCOUNT…. were never given, as they “ran out of time.” As she dumps their carcasses, swallowed whole in gift wrap with cute matching ribbons onto your counter…. you mutely extend your hand for her credit card and blink back tears of regret, of beaches unseen and coral reefs unexplored — for you are now simply lunch.

A favorite read-aloud: Ame Dyckman’s perfect picture book about friendship in the deep.

The BULLSHARK BOOKSHOPPER: Actually the most deadly to humans (and booksellers), the Bull Shark descends into the depths of your children’s section with a list of kids and ages, seeking perfect reading recommendations from her frontline bookselling prey. Not content with table displays and detailed section signage, this predator circles your staff repeatedly, asking for more and more information about each title they pull for her children… pausing over two choices just long enough to encourage the poor victims to find TWO MORE BOOKS that might just be perfect. As they respectfully step away to allow her to consider her choices (ever mindful that not every customer can afford more than one hardcover new release per trip) she SNAPS…. and uses her smart phone to capture cover images of every title, exiting rapidly and silently through the reef of plush and impulse item displays… never to be seen again.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…. Ame and Scott’s sequel.

The TIGER STRIPED TODDLER is lovely to behold, as he happily enters your store, dipping between the train table and the basket of board books on the reading rug, flashing a happy grin and a contented air. Surely, you think, he has recently been fed, and perhaps just awoken from a lovely nap in the carseat, and will blissfully cruise through story time and a birthday present shopping trip with his mom. And so his rapid transformation from peaceful preschooler to TERROR OF THE CARPET will catch you unaware, as his screams throughout the second round of “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” will escalate in volume and spread fear throughout the space. His mother, immune to both the noise and the violence of his writhing in the center of the store, will continue to sip her extra large cup of frothy plankton, and send text messages on her device, while you try to distract the small destroyer of peace and post-storytime commerce.
The SHORTFIN MAKO CRAZY CUSTOMER feeds at closing time, entering your store somewhat hesitantly, 10 or 15 minutes before the posted end of the day. “Are you open?” he will tentatively inquire, as you smile broadly and welcome him in. “Of course!  How can we help…. or would you like to just browse a bit?”
Kindly, you will marshal your school of staff members toward their sections, encouraging them to tidy up, pick up stray volumes, straighten shelves, and put their store closing duties aside to allow for easy browsing access….. while this undersea hunter circles each table, picking up a book here (“oh! he’s going to buy that hardcover boxed set!”) and then setting it down in another section. Another book or two will be tucked under his arm… (“don’t close the register….look, he’s shopping!”) and then he appears around a corner, empty-handed, as he begins to peruse the graphic novels. A stuffed bunny is carried from the baby section for a few minutes, a Catan expansion pack for a few more, but nothing ever stays in his hands long enough to make it all the way to the register. Several staff members approach him, engage in pleasant conversation about his reading preferences and gift-giving needs, and all suggestions are listened to with a smile and slightly tilted head by this wily predator, held for a few moments in his hands, and discarded at the next display.
Silently, he will glide out of your store, a full 30 minutes past closing, purchasing nothing, but you will continue to circle, trying to recall each and every thing he touched, and grasp it in your hands just to be sure that the entire encounter was not an illusion.

“I am a Lil Shark” from Madd Capp Puzzles

The OCEANIC WHITE TIP-YOU-OFF SHARK leaves little bodily damage in his wake, but destroys the spirit of the business owner who survives his attack of “advice.” The signature phrase “Do you know what you should do?” is perilous, and should be given wide berth. Here’s What You Should Do… Random bits of advice about your store pricing policies (did you know that sharks live in the Amazon? Me, either) your layout, your selection, and the color of your hair may fall prey to his sharp wisdom, and watch for the gnawing at your bookseller soul as he “helps” you fix your business model.
Take heart, dear bookselling shark fans, for while you may not have time to tune in and see these species on television this week, I’m sure that you’ll spot a few in your store. Keep the splashing to a minimum, and remember, in the words of Mayor Vaughn (Jaws, 1975):
“Amity, as you know, means friendship.”
Have an amicable Shark Week.

Jess Keating’s wonderful picture book about Eugenie Clark is front and center in our display.


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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

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