Monday, March 21, 2011

What do booksellers do when the lights go out?

by Book Passage Tina

I first became a bookseller in 1986, before automated cash registers and computerized inventories. And I loved the challenges those days presented; you had to add up totals, compute tax, count change back to a cash customer. And you had to know your inventory pretty much by heart.

When the latest Spring storm knocked out the power at Book Passage on a Sunday afternoon, we decided to stay open, at least as long as the daylight held out. The booksellers and I hauled out the old-fashioned credit card sliding devices and cash receipt books, and put a chalkboard out front proclaiming, “Open until Sundown!” After all, we figured, you don’t need electricity to read a book, as long as the daylight holds out.

Since the nearby mall shops all decided to close with their power out, we had a small flood of customers. The café sprang into gear serving cold sandwiches and soft drinks. My booksellers, who know our inventory pretty darned well, walked the floors helping our customers find the books they wanted, and offering recommendations as we always do when someone wants a good read. With our telephone and paging systems between the two buildings also out, we synchronized our personal cell phones and called each other as needed. When a customer wanted a book but couldn’t remember the exact title or author, Andy whipped out his mobile phone and looked it up on the Internet, then went to the right section and handed it to the customer.

Delighted patrons picked up on our spirit of fun and adventure, and patiently waited as we hand-wrote receipts and counted their change the old-fashioned way. They browsed, mingled, read a newspaper over a sandwich in the café, and agreed that a community bookstore with a willingness to remain open and serve its patrons, was the best place to be, when the lights went out.

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