Monday, March 1, 2010

Stores Are Not Playgrounds (and Other Customers)

Last night a woman came into the store with her two children, girl and a boy about three and four years old. Mom had a big exchange to do (lots of items, kind of complicated), and the two children were left to their own devices. They were looking at displays, playing with each other and running up and down the aisles. They'd been in the store for about half an hour already, and the exchange took about 20 minutes, and when done, Mom headed out to the car with her bag and the kids. whew! Then she came back IN, without the bag, to do more shopping. Mom was looking at books and pretty much ignored the kids, who again were playing, looking, pulling things off tables and shelves. One of the managers went over and told the Mom that she needed to watch them, that it was not okay for them to be running around freely. Did that help? Did they stop? Not so much. At one point Mom wanted to go to a distant part of the store to get an item and told the kids to "stay right there. don't move. stand still." The boy stayed and the girl started following her Mom. Mom joked about it, "Who's following me? Who's following me when I asked them to stay there?" After about an hour (the second hour), she finally came up to the registers ready to check out, with a large stack of books. She was paying close attention to the purchase, hardly any attention to the kids. They finally left at about 8:30.

It wasn't the kids' fault, they were just doing what preschoolers do, run around and play with each other and whatever is around them. They weren't given any guidance or parameters for how to behave in a bookstore. argh.

All right, that was a bit of a rant.

Two young men stopped me in an aisle and asked if I could help them find a book for their Mom. They said she'd liked The Kite Runner. Three Cups of Tea was in their hands, and they asked if that would be good. I told them that it IS good, very good, describing Greg Mortensen's work to get schools built in Afghanistan, but that the version they had in their hands was the young reader's version, their Mom would probably prefer the original. I showed them the front bays of books, pointed out ones I'd read (Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (charming, lovely), Lovely Bones (brilliantly done, stunning) as well as ones I hadn't but know a bit about (Olive Kitteridge won Pulitzer Prize, heard it's a bit grim, A Reliable Wife selling well, good story, I want to read it). I found myself talking pretty fast, trying to give them many options. I said it sounded as though their mom liked good fiction, and they agreed. They ended up choosing Three Cups of Tea. They were very sweet.

A woman started to ask me a question..."Can you help me? You're going to hate this question, I hate this question. I work in a perfume store and people ask me all the time, 'What would be a good perfume for my mother?', and it's so individual, but I'm going to ask anyway, Can you help me find a good book for my brother-in-law?"

I appreciated that she KNEW what she was asking, choosing a book IS so individual. I try to find out if they know any likes or dislikes of the person, what they've read before (and liked OR disliked)...sports? politics? history? thrillers? science fiction? It's helpful to have somewhere to start.

The hardest is when people come in and want to choose something for a child. That they haven't seen in five years. Who lives across the country. And they have no idea how well the child reads, nor what the child is interested in (bugs? princesses? dinosaurs? magic?). It's a challenge but I've got to give them props for wanting to give the child a book.

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