My whole life my father owned his own business and it was it's own kind of annoyance. He could come pick me up from school when I was sick as long as he didn't have a meeting. But he couldn't go with me to visit family on Thanksgiving. I remember thinking to myself, he is the boss, he can do whatever he wants. But know I own my own business and I understand all the things I never did when I was younger. Getting an hour or two off in the middle of the day is easy. Asking your staff to work the day after Thanksgiving is hard.
I work at the bookstore 6 days a week. I love being there, but the days start to run together. I can no longer remember who was present for which conversation and I tell one person the same thing 4 times and another never hears wind of something I am planning. This is what it means to be a grown up. It is official. In the past year I have left childish things behind and I am officially a big person.
Today was a great week in the store. Lots of people browsing and milling. Lots of people wanting recommendations. This is the part of my job that I love. We are a tourist town and the summer is where retail makes its bread and butter. We are always very busy. But that means I don't always have the time to talk with people about the books they would like or the presents they are getting. The Christmas season is the perfect balance of busy enough while I still get the time to speak with customers.
Since we carry both new and used books we face particular challenges. We aren't carrying that political book that came out this summer and if we do have The Grinch Who Stole Christmas I will be asked why it isn't used. About 2 months ago it occurred that no one really understands how my business works. I can't have a used copy of a certain book if no one has ever traded it into me. It has taken me over a year to realize that customers think we ORDER used books to put in the store. At least once a day people ask me how I get books even though they just watched someone bring in three boxes to trade.
When I bought the bookstore last May most people who considered themselves "regulars" came in every six to eight months. I understand that people are busy. But I have started reminding people that they don't come in as often as they think. The hope is they will come more often and help keep us in business. My bookstore has been around for twenty years, so people think I bought a sure thing. A little over 4 years ago the store moved into a new location. This new location provided it with much of its charm, but it also raised the stakes when it came to viability for the future.
Last week I found out that an independent bookstore in Bakersfield, CA will be going out of business at the end of January. I found out about the bookstore through a local author. She had made contact with the manager of the store and put us in touch with each other. Over the past year and a half we occasionally send messages about the progress of things. But I heard no murmurings on the wind before the announcement that the shop would close.
Since the announcement we have been discussing the place of community in matters of business. When I bought the bookstore the previous owner told me the most important piece of business advice I have gotten. He said, "It is not your bookstore; it is the community's bookstore." But how do you stay viable if your community isn't willing to support you?
Every day people tell me that they will order a new book on Amazon rather than through me because it is cheaper or easier. And part of me fully understands that and the other part is very concerned about what that means for my futures. I am trying to come up with what I can say to these people to help them understand that if they place that order through me for even just a little more money then they are showing support for my continued success. I am very lucky. I have many many customers who are loyal to me. But winter is always hard. Winter means that if locals were the only ones ever buying we would have never stayed in business. And this does worry me a little bit. I support the community, but does the community support me?
As a book reader and buyer what factors keep you going local and not buying more cheaply online?