Sunday, December 27, 2015

Into the Future

I have been a bookseller for 26 years, but that will be coming to an end in a few weeks. The owners of the bookshop where I've spent all those years are retiring, and the shop is closing its doors. 

Were I a decade or more younger and a good bit less anxious about going into debt, I would have taken them up on their offer to keep the thing going. I admire them for having been able to maintain the financial integrity of the business, and for being able to make a choice to retire rather than being forced to shutter up. 

While there are some indications across the rest of the country that independent bookstores are making a slow comeback, and I believe that an indie can still be viable here, the fact of it is that it is harder every year to compete with the number of alternatives that consumers have, not just for reading but for diversions of every sort. I desperately hope that someone in my town will have a vision for a new indie store, and I will promise them I will be among the first customers across their doorstep. 

I'll be dead on honest here: I have been in our sole remaining general trade big-box bookstore here only one time. It was not a pleasant or relaxing experience, but it is one to which I will have to become accustomed. For years I have harped  on how crucial it is to support businesses who employ folks who live here, who pay taxes here, and it would be a special brand of hypocrisy to abandon the local market now. I cannot promise I won't eventually be lured online for my book-buying on occasion, but I do at least pledge to make every attempt to give our remaining local bookseller a first shot. 

I've been asked whether I might apply to work for them, and the answer is a resounding NO, for several reasons. 

1. I have carved out a balance in my life between work and family, with time to chip away at things I do for myself. Working for a big-box retailer of any sort would necessarily foul those waters. There was a time a few years ago when my husband was forced to work for a national chain, and the years he spent working for those corporate phantoms took a toll on not only his well-being, but the well-being of our family. We learned the hard way that there is no compensation that can make up for damaged relationships with the people you love the most. There are plenty of people we know who have great lives and demanding jobs, and our hats are off to them. We just know from our own experience that we are not those people. 

2. At least 90% of what I loved about what I was able to do for the past quarter century had to do with the relationships I formed with my customers, and being part of a business in which our goal was to say YES more often than we had to say NO. I am used to our going the extra mile to get a book in someone's hand as quickly as we possibly could. I loved working somewhere that remembering the reading habits of almost every person who shopped with us regularly began to come naturally, and one in which the owner and I knew whom to call to check up on a customer who missed their usual stop-in date. 

3. I don't want to work retail again if I can help it. I've been privileged to be part of a very special business for a very long time, and I do not believe I would be happy selling anything else in the world. I don't have the passion or the wardrobe for any other setting.
So, what AM I going to do?

I have no idea. I've had a number of people who have very kindly offered to keep their ears and eyes open for something for me, and a few who have given me names of people whom I might contact. When the store goes dark, I am giving myself a few weeks to just BE before I dig in for the hunt. Although I've worked only part-time for all these years, I have taken very little time away on vacations, and have called in sick only a handful of times. I'm tired, and I'd like a few weeks to focus on my home, and maybe take a couple short road trips to visit family and friends.

And I want to write. I have had a project in my heart and mind for a long, long time. Over the past many weeks I have had a number of very clear notions about how, and with whom, to make it happen. I'm energized by even the imagining of it. 

Now to this: what becomes of this place here? I can hardly call myself the Surly Bookseller when I am no longer hoping that the handful of readers I have will be inspired to call me at the store and actually buy a copy of what I'm recommending, can I? And yet.... I had so often joked that, given the opportunity to open my own store that this would be the name of it, well.... it's sort of sentimental to me. I think I'll keep it.

There's some freedom in this. I will feel better about reading old stuff I've never gotten around to, and sharing my opinion about those things. I want to reread some old favorites, to see if they stand up. And I will be sharing some stories along the way about the people and my experiences in bookselling that I hope you'll find funny or touching in some way. 

I sure hope you'll come along for the ride.