As an example, customers often make comments that are so interesting I write them down on little scraps of paper. It’s like getting a free one-liner to use in a future conversation, which is exactly what I try to do whenever possible.
Some teenagers came in a few weeks ago just to browse and they were having an intense but friendly discussion about reading. One boy was obviously an avid reader and he was arguing with a girl who advocated spending time on other activities.
They were moving fast but I caught the best part of the debate as they headed out the door and the boy said, “Reading is awesome! It is STAUNCHLY awesome!” and the girl immediately replied, “You can’t just read all day—you gotta LIVE, dude!”
As a writer, I can’t invent dialogue that good. They gave it to me at no charge and my only regret is that I didn’t think fast enough to chime in with my own rejoinder, which would have been, “Wait—both of you are right. Reading IS living!”
I try to keep my audio senses on high alert because the great comments usually come without any warning. One man stepped into the store, took a deep breath, looked at his companion and said, “It smells good in here. It smells like paper and glue.”
In all honesty, I’ve never noticed any distinctive scents among the aisles but that’s probably because my nose has become accustomed to all of them. I can also honestly say this comment generates a range of responses when I run it past other customers. Space does not permit me to list all of them; suffice to say that when people tell me they are just “sniffing around for a good read” it may be true, literally.
Some customers do more than just give a good quote—they hand over personal possessions. Last winter a guy was looking at the history section and I commented on his wonderful muffler. It displayed the logo of ‘FC Bayern Munchen,’ which is a sports team in Germany. A short time later he walked up to the counter and handed the muffler to me. “I have two of them,” he said. “You take this one.” I was stunned. I will wear that muffler this winter and hope the man comes back so I can thank him more profusely. And if he’s wearing really great looking pants, I won’t say a word.
Then there was the woman I saw carrying a plastic clam-shell container. She’d been at the café two doors down and the container held a single, huge blueberry pancake. “Looks really good,” I commented, and she responded instantly.
“It’s yours now,” she said. “I’m full. I just didn’t want to leave it behind. Don’t worry, it’s clean. I didn’t put anything weird on it.” Indeed it was clean, and very delicious.
What will come my way next? Only the future knows. This is why I tell people working at Annie Bloom’s is a gift. Actually I’m going to start saying it’s an awesome gift. No, make that STAUNCHLY awesome!
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. He continues to blog about politics and popular culture for Huffington Post and also contributes to the ‘Modern Parent’ blog at the Christian Science Monitor.