Repost: Diary of A Former Bookstore Worker
I’m taking my annual week-long summer hiatus this week, which means this is a “Best of 101 Books” week. I’ll return live on Monday July 8.
Today’s post originally appeared on the blog on October 19, 2012.
A long, long time ago (12 years) in a land far, far away (Birmingham, Alabama) I worked at a Barnes & Noble.
This was during the glory days of the corporate bookstore, long before Amazon started dominating the market, the digital reader became popular, and half of the merchandise in bookstores became puppy calendars, board games, and Narnia figurines.
Oh, the good ole’ days.
And as a former bookstore worker, do I ever have some stories to tell. I worked part-time from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. From 7 to 9, before the store opened, I shelved books. From 9 to 11, I shelved books and helped customers find the latest Danielle Steele novel. God bless ’em.
Some things I learned about working at a big bookstore:
Sex books often get “misplaced.” How is it that, almost every day, I’d find a random book about the kama sutra or healthy sex for old people randomly hidden in the science fiction or historical biography section? My worse “misplaced” book experience was the morning I walked into the restroom, before the store opened, and found an indescribable sex book on the bathroom floor inside a stall—left there from the night before. What God-forsaken acts must have occurred in the bathroom that night? That right there was disgusting.
Mascot suits are hot. When the dude who’s supposed to wear the Curious George suit at Saturday story time doesn’t show up for Saturday story time, guess who gets to wear the Curious George suit? The lowly part-time shelver college student…this guy. I can’t take back that one hour of my life, disguised as 6 foot tall monkey while three-year-olds sat in my lap and poked my nose. I think I lost 5 pounds that day from sweat.
Creepy dudes hang around the sex books section. You can count on it. Once a day, at least, you’ll see a weird, scraggly-haired guy who looked like he just got up at noon and wondered over to Barnes & Noble to look at the pictures in the sex book section.
People who stand outside stores before they open are the meanest people on earth. This is science. “The sign says they open at 9 a.m. but maybe if I show up at 8:40 and knock on the door and peek through the window for 20 minutes they’ll let me in. Or maybe if I say, ‘Come on! This is ridiculous!’ really loudly as the manager walks by they will recognize my voice as a man of importance! Give me my freakin’ coffee!”
Frequent bookstore customers are cheap. I’ll admit it…I’ve done this once or twice in my life, but I never realized so many others did it until I worked for a bookstore. Those comfy chairs are made for one thing—reading. And if you’re going to put them in the middle of the store, people will read in those comfy chairs…for hours. That’s why, every day from noon to 2, you’ll see the same guy sitting in the same chair reading the same book. Over the course of the year, he probably read 15 books without paying for one. He’s embraced his cheapness and enjoyed your comfy chairs to boot. Good for that guy.
So many stories. So little time.
If you’ve ever worked at a bookstore, or noticed something strange or unique about the bookstore you often visit, do share your stories!