A young couple and their toddler came in not long ago and headed back into our children’s section. The little boy was in one of those borderline moods where fatigue begins to morph into unhappiness. There were only one or two other shoppers in the store so it was easy to hear the occasional toddler outbursts and parental voices trying to calm the discontented waters.
I know how tricky these situations can be for new parents because I’ve been there, so I decided the young couple should get a little emotional vote of confidence. I left the counter and walked directly toward the dad, who was looking at a picture book. He saw me coming and quickly closed it.
“I just want you to know that I’m hoping to see you and your little guy in this store, on a regular basis, for the next eighteen or twenty years,” is what I said, and before he could reply I added, “and when he’s all grown up you can bring the grandkids in here and start the cycle over again.”
It was a thought that popped into my head on the spur of the moment and went straight to vocal output mode.
“That’s so nice of you,” the dad said. “I was worried you were going to ask us to leave. Because of, you know, the noise.”
“Not a chance,” I assured him. “It’s great to have kids in here at the earliest possible age, so you’re doing exactly the right thing, and by all means stay as long as you like.” And they did.
Small children occasionally get noisy. So do teenagers, senior citizens, and everyone in between. To me, loud voices are much preferable to the occasional wave of silence that engulfs the store whenever we’re temporarily devoid of customers. Sometimes when I hear a flustered child dissolve into a screaming meltdown, I close my eyes and think of the famous words yelled out by radio announcer Herb Morrison as he watched the Hindenburg crash to Earth in flames: “Oh, THE HUMANITY!”
Such stormy moments inevitably subside without the need for me or any staffer to issue stern reprimands. I think of Annie Bloom’s as a neighborhood refugium where no one will be subjected to sarcasm or ridicule. Being snide and snarky is commonplace these days in movies, TV and stand-up comedy, and as it permeates everyday life I think it has a corrosive effect on the process of personal communication.
Full disclosure is called for here: Anyone who’s read my work at Huffington Post or The Subtopian knows I can be as edgy and abrasive as any talk show host. But I leave all that behind when I’m in the store talking with visitors face-to-face.
I especially don’t want to bring any negative energy into the children’s section. That’s where happy memories of reading begin. The illustrations in my favorite Little Golden Books have stayed in my brain for more than 50 years and I’m happy every time another copy of The Sailor Dog, Scuffy the Tugboat or The Saggy Baggy Elephant goes out the door.
Ask a mom and dad to pick up their toddler and leave? When I see little kids in the store I’m looking at the future of book buying, and the future is always welcome here.
Jeffrey Shaffer is a bookseller at Annie Bloom’s Books in the historic Multnomah Village district of southwest Portland. His relationship with Annie Bloom’s began in the 1990’s when the store’s booksellers enthusiastically sold his two humor collections I’m Right Here, Fish-Cake and It Came With the House. Last November he joined the staff and discovered that selling books can be just as interesting as the writing process. Shaffer recently wrote about one of his most treasured books in an essay in The Christian Science Monitor.