Every day there are customers making their first visit to Annie Bloom’s Books and I’m always interested in finding out why they haven’t been in previously.
“I’m from out of state” is a common reason along with “I don’t get over to this side of town very often.” And sometimes a person will pause and say, “You know, I’ve thought about coming here for a long time and just never got around to doing it.”
My standard reply is, “The fact that you’re here right now is what counts,” and I never get tired of saying it. We don’t hand out rating cards but if we did I think most of the responses would definitely fall into the category of ‘very satisfied.’ I can honestly say that no first-timer has ever come up to me on the way out and said, “This was a huge mistake! Your books are awful! I’ve had a lousy time!”
What does bother me is thinking about all the people out in the world beyond our front doors who would thoroughly enjoy being here but still haven’t found us. Although social media and communication technology are expanding their influence every day, the task of getting publicity and attracting new customers never ends.
As a person who enjoys being sociable I have to restrain myself constantly from approaching total strangers and saying, “Hi! You don’t know me but I’ve been watching you and I think you’d have a wonderful time at the bookstore where I work.” The liabilities that could result from this behavior clearly outweigh any imagined benefits.
It’s frustrating because I see potential Annie Bloom enthusiasts everywhere; they’re in supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops and sometimes they’re in the car stopped beside mine at a red light. You would not believe how hard it is for me NOT to open my car door and hand the driver next to me a bookmark from the store. Yes, I carry bookmarks
around with me and sometimes I hand them out to people who already know me such as bank tellers and baristas.
An old saying cautions, “Be careful what you wish for,” and I keep that in mind while pondering my personal promotional schemes. If by some quirk of collective thinking all of our friends-yet-to-be suddenly got the notion to visit at the same time, the store would be hopelessly jammed and nobody would be happy.
In my own perfect-world scenario there would always be 16 customers in the store. I think that’s just enough to give everyone plenty of elbow room so they can move around comfortably and the staff can leave the counter to provide individual assistance as needed without causing a back-up at the registers.
Every time I look around the store and see fewer than 16 patrons I wonder if I should be more aggressive with my promotional urges. But for now I am going to maintain restraint and concentrate on creating an enjoyable experience for everyone who steps across our threshold.
And my message for everyone on the way out is: Wherever you live, near or far, come back anytime. Feel free to bring your friends, too.
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. He’s your guy if you need a bookmark.