Thoughts on two bookstores


This afternoon I stopped by a local Barnes & Noble and Half-Price Books in order to peruse the stores (it’s been so long…sad) and pick up applications.  So far, I haven’t applied to any bookstores, choosing to concentrate instead on landing a full-time job.  But as my internship comes to a close (next week!), and no real opportunities have so far presented themselves, I am now willing to look at retail.

Now, this isn’t to say that I look down on bookselling.  As a matter of fact, I would absolutely love to work in a bookstore.  I’ve applied to B&N at least three times, if that tells you anything.  I know books, and I have my finger on the pulse of the publishing world, and so I’m confident that I could be quite a successful bookseller.  Plus, I might die walking into work everyday, seeing all those books packed snugly around me.  Applying before, I was (understandably) inexperienced and naive.  I was in high school, I was in my first year of college.  But now I’ve graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature–now I can safely say, I know my shit.  I’m hoping to catch the stores as their summer employees head back to school, so I’m excited to see what these applications yield.

Looking at the two applications, though, I can see the differences between the two stores and their company’s philosophy like night and day.  Both share the usual requests for personal, employment and education information, however I’m noticing that B&N has eliminated their question about why the applicant wants to work at a bookstore.  I’ve filled out quite a few of these in my day, you see, so the lack of such question surprises me.  There is no space for the applicant to describe their strengths and how it might apply to bookselling either, an omission I find troubling.  The application for B&N is the same that I would fill out to be a cashier at Target or stock shelves at Kroger.  B&N is a bookstore for goodness sake–shouldn’t the applicant prove they know a little about where they’d be working?

That question has been represented in full on the Half-Price application.  In fact, Half-Price has an entire page devoted to questions like “What are your strongest qualities?” “What did you like best about the jobs you’ve had in the past?” “What types of books and music do you enjoy?” “Why do you want to work in a bookstore?”

These are great questions, and I’m actually excited to fill them out.  While B&N is the corporate giant, I’d love to land a job with Half-Price.  It is, after all, where I buy most of my books.  In fact, while I was perusing the store today, I wandered back to the clearance shelf and found myself tempted to impulsively buy a $2 copy of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.  Then, I reminded myself that I was there to find work because I had no money.

What I found most interesting was the fact that while B&N was cold, empty and foot traffic was sluggish (it’s not a good sign when you can hear the baristas’ conversation from the fiction section), Half-Price was bustling.  For a Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m., people were coming out of every aisle.  Some even were pushing mini carts full of books!  Half-Price was having a store-wide 20% off sale, but it just goes to show that not all bookstores are failing.  People gravitate toward deals, especially during a recession, and second-hand bookstores like Half-Price provide the same books for the right price.  Of course, publishers and author don’t receive any money from purchases at second-hand bookstores–which is why they don’t like to talk about them (we barely broached the subject at SPI).  But somehow, I think the publishers are the only ones losing out here.  I can’t imagine authors caring too much about whether their books are read new or second-hand–as long as they’re being read.

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