So You Want to Work in a Bookstore: Lesson 8 | Your Coworkers
Let me tell you something about the people you’ll work with in a bookstore: there will be a lot of them. A bookstore is a retail store and working retail is not for the faint of heart. You need a strong back, a tough skin and a sick ability to be abused by customers and coworkers alike and still smile. A lot of them will be gone before you commit their names to memory, and some will stick around far past the point you feel they should. Some will have surprisingly little interest in reading or selling books, or in doing much of anything.
And then there are some who will remind you in everything they do that life should not be measured by sales trends and customer counts and goal sheets, its not all about the paycheck and the to-do lists; they will remind you that the most important stories in your bookstore are not the ones you’re selling, but those that you are experiencing. They will show you that the bookstore itself is your story, or at least part of it, and it is filled with characters who are boring, or quirky, infuriating, confusing (or just plain confused), energetic, heartbreaking and soul-saving. Some of these will be short stories, some will be stories that are never finished, some are epic narratives that span decades and intersect a thousand other stories in ways you could never expect.
Today, this lesson, is about one coworker specifically, because today (right now, actually) we’re celebrating the retirement of Gerriann, who has spent the last twenty-two years not only selling books and running bookclubs, but has kept us all smiling and sane, and more importantly, she’s fed us. A happy bookseller is the one who just a got a free meal, and Gerri has been the heart, soul and oven behind more well-fed booksellers and bookstore pot-lucks than you can imagine.
I was asked to write a short bio of Gerri to submit to our company newsletter, celebrating her service to company, to the store, to our customers, our staff and the world of literature in general. And in typical Gerrian fashion, she then basically wrote the article herself. Instead of letting me interview her, she left in my mailbox a completed (albeit brief) autobiography that began with her as a little girl, first falling in love with books. Easiest assignment I have ever had.
So, when it is so easy to overlook the people working at the stores we shop in, I want to share with you this article I “wrote” and let you meet a bookseller who’s well-deserved retirement is going to leave our store with a little less laughter and little bit hungrier, and with a great story for having known her.
“Growing up, reading was my favorite pastime, whether I was in my treehouse or riding my horse. Not surprisingly, the Black Stallion series was one of my favorites. And when I wasn’t reading, I spent a lot of time volunteering and working in children’s libraries, where my own passion for these stories developed into a deep knowledge of children’s literature.
In 1992, i was working for a clothing retailer when I heard from a friend that [the company] was hiring for two new stores in Western New York. On my lunch hour I went for an interview (I always kept a resume in my car) and was hired on the spot as an assistant manager in one of the stores. That was the start of my love affair with the bookselling business, and 20 years later, I’m still in love with it.
Now, I’m the merchandise manager. I love working the salesfloor with our great staff and talking to customers about our favorite books, recommending new authors to them and even learning of a few myself.
Thirteen years ago, I joined the Historical Fiction book club with Fay, who runs our children’s storytimes, and our group still has many of the same members years later. With each book we choose, I always do a little research about the time period and the facts surrounding the story and give a handout to the group to take our discussion beyond just the novels themselves.
My love of children’s literature from my time working in libraries has only grown… and has extended into my volunteering with Project Flight, a local literacy group that puts books into the hands of children around the world.
Next week, I will start a new chapter in the Book of Life: retirement. I plan to volunteer full time with Project Flight, and maybe even start a storytime or book club in my neighborhood school. And it’s a safe bet you’ll see me at the store, sitting by the fireplace, reading a great novel and sipping my latte.”
I just want to point out that apparently, Gerri loved reading so much, she could do it while riding a horse. If that kind of dedication doesn’t foreshadow a career in the book industry, I don’t know what does.
So, here’s to retirement; and to all the little things future booksellers will only hear about… to the lasagna and salad and cookies, and the brownies with Snickers or Andes mints (and once, an Andes mint wrapper), to vegetables from your garden, and keeping the yogurt your doctor forced you to eat in the freezer to pretend it was ice cream, to the bookseller you practically adopted, who ended up marrying your son, and stories about your crazy cat and grumpy husband, who I was terrified would answer the phone anytime I had to call you; to the sand and beach balls you put in the store’s front windows for your ‘books for the beach’ display, to letting us film a Jewish rapper’s music video in the back hallway. Lil Benji’s career never quite took off, but I’m sure he never forgot your support, even if you have no idea what I’m talking about.
Here’s to always having an enthusiastic and a little bit loopy “OK!” or “uh HUH!” ready no matter what the question or request, and whether or not those responses actually answered the question; and you coming down with pneumonia because someone sneezed in the breakroom, and every other diseases or physical ailment you’ve “contracted” over the years. Why we didn’t all chip in a buy you a John Travolta-esque bubble suit years ago, I have no idea.
Gerri, here’s to being the other half of our merchandising team, and keeping me sane(ish) simply by reminding me that the business may change but at the heart of it all, we’re there to share books and engage the people who walk through the doors. Without taking the time to do that we won’t sell a thing, and no one involved, not the book buyers or the booksellers, will remember why being a part of this bookstore is so important. And here’s to—wait, did I mention the Andes brownies already?
And here’s to your coworkers, one of the reasons you should want to work in a bookstore.