An important part of my job–perhaps the most important part–as a bookseller at Half-Price Books is cleaning up after people. And no, I’m not talking about straightening the shelves at the end of the day, or the lucky person who’s task it is to clean the restrooms at night (ew). I’m talking about the constant, never-ending job of picking up after customers as they set out to wreck…I mean, shop…our store everyday.
Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, bookselling isn’t exactly rocket science. We are a retail establishment, as is the Hallmark and Krogers next door. Our job is to serve the people, in any way possible. Make them happy, find the books they request, be nice. Picking up the store is just part of the customer service experience. People buy more merchandise if the store looks its best, and since improving sales is always the number goal at any retail establishment, I should grab a cart and start re-shelving with a smile on my face. Right?
Right. Of course I understand this, and I’m in no way taking a stab at my supervisors by my overt sarcasm. Straightening the store can be a cathartic activity, almost relaxing if you approach it in the right way. I’m annoyingly obsessive compulsive, and so walking away from a newly straightened young adult aisle actually relieves my tension. No, my problem is the customers (when aren’t they the problem?) and the way they treat our stores. As you may have guessed, Half-Price Books is primarily a secondhand bookstore. Some of our material is new, but our calling card is that we re-sell your old books, movies and music at half the publisher’s price. Therefore, most of what’s on our shelves isn’t in mint condition. The bindings may a bit worn, the corners slightly bent, someone may have written their names on a title page. It is company policy not to put out anything in noticeably bad condition (no ripped covers, mold or water damage), but people still flock to our stores looking for their favorite titles at prices they can afford. After all, Dickens is still Dickens, no matter how many times he’s been read.
The problem is the same customers see our “used” merchandise and perceive our stores to be low on the retail totem pole. This is reflected in how they treat our stores. At the end of the day, we find books strewn all over the floor, shoved on top of shelves and hidden in corners. As would be expected, this problem is particularly bad in the children’s section (we have a small table where the kids can sit and read, and by the end of the day, the books are two feet deep), but what amazes me is how messy the grown-ups can be. The cooking and crafts sections, in particular, are especially bad. Books with torn covers and bent corners laying on the floor and anywhere other than their proper place. Chemistry textbooks shoved in some unseen corner of horror, an art kit opened by some child and then left for us to find in the romance section. I expected there to be some mess when I got this job, but this is ridiculous.
I tend to blame most of this problem on people’s selfish disregard for what is not theirs. How else do you explain the mess we find in the kids’ section everyday, knowing that parents were there while their children terrorized a public place? It’s as if parents feel no need to teach their children to respect other people’s property. “Oh I don’t care if Jimmy throws all the Clifford books onto the floor. It’s not like they’re our books, or our problem.” I mean, really? But then, am I really surprised considering this same mom is leaving her knitting books with the romance paperbacks?
Now, I know that these messes can probably be blamed on a few, rather than every mom that walks through the door. Some people tell their kids to look at one book at at time, or at least return their sewing books to the same shelf where they originally found it. But I do see this problem more at Half-Price Books, rather than any other bookstore. Granted, I’ve never thought to look, but I can’t remember the last time I walked through a Barnes & Noble and thought, “Wow, this place looks like a bomb went off.” That’s because people perceive Barnes & Noble to be a “nice” store, and treat it accordingly. Meanwhile, Half-Price sells the same merchandise, and we’re given the same respect as the Dollar Store. Maybe we should decorate with faux wood, play some muzak, install a Starbucks and scatter some squishy chairs around the place. We would also have to double our prices, fire half of our extremely knowledgable staff and become snooty and impersonal. Maybe then people would take us seriously.