Two women recently came into Annie Bloom’s and approached me with a request that you don’t hear very often these days.
“Do you have a phonebook?” one of them asked.
In fact, we DO have phonebooks available behind the counter, both white and yellow pages, although until that moment I’d never had a reason to look at them.
“We’re trying to call an airline,” the second woman said, “and we don’t have smart phones. I figured if anyplace around here had a phone book, you might.”
They didn’t buy anything but they left happy, and to me their visit was absolutely appropriate. I want everyone to think of this place as a friendly neighbor and feel free to come in for any reason at all. Once they’re inside something good is liable to happen, and I’m always ready to take questions on just about any subject.
That doesn’t mean my answers will be satisfying in all cases. I felt bad about disappointing the guy who walked up to the counter last year and tried to sell me some cuts of fresh meat. “Just wanted to tell you,” he said in a friendly tone, “I got some nice top sirloin, filet mignon, porterhouse, all good stuff if you’re interested. I’m parked across the street.”
I’ve had guys selling meat door-to-door come to my house before, but it hadn’t occurred to me they might solicit potential buyers on the job. And for a moment, the proposition was intriguing. Several years ago a movie called “Snakes On a Plane” attracted a cult following. I wondered if “Steaks In a Bookstore” might also cultivate a loyal audience.
Bold as the concept might be, our lack of grilling equipment, commercial kitchen facilities, and suitable dining area forced me to decline the man’s offer. Fortunately these negative endings don’t happen often.
“Would you mind doing me a favor?” is a question that comes up fairly frequently and my standard reply is, “I’ll give it my best effort.” I don’t say, “It depends on what you want.” That sort of equivocation shows an obvious lack of enthusiasm for customer service.
The woman I’ll never forget looked at me and said, “Can you do me one small favor?” as she was signing a credit card receipt. “I need you to tie my shoes.” She was elderly, walked with a cane, and sure enough when I went around to her side of the counter and kneeled down both shoes were untied. “I just didn’t feel like doing it this morning when I got dressed,” she explained. “I have trouble reaching down that far.”
I tied the laces, very carefully, so the knots would hold in place. “Is that too tight?” I asked. “I used to go to a shoe store when I was little and the clerk always tied the laces way too tight and I hated that.”
“That used to happen to me too!” she said. “These feel just fine. Thank you”
And by the way— when people are waiting in line to purchase books, and they see the delay is due to a store employee kneeling down and tying the shoes of another customer, they don’t complain.
As I said earlier, a bookstore should be a place where you go inside and something good happens. I can tell our efforts to maintain this feeling at Annie Bloom’s are working when I hear intensely positive comments like the one from a little girl a few weeks ago. I didn’t see her because I was gift wrapping a book. But as the family walked out the door I heard her exclaim, “Mommy, promise we’ll come back here!”
Jeffrey Shaffer is a bookseller and booklover 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.