Something is rotten in the book shop

For me, the decision as to whether or not I’ll drop into a book store ( or any other shop, for that matter), always comes down to one thing: Its smell.  I don’t care if your walls need a new coat of paint, or it looks as though you should’ve replaced your carpet twenty years ago — but if your business stinks, I’ll simply leave.

Now, there are bad smells and there are bad smells.  If the person running the show is paying dearly for the bean burrito he or she just had for lunch, that’s one thing; if the entire place is haunted by the spirit of your Great Aunt Beatrice’s over-flowing ashtray, that’s quite another.

I have encountered at least one store where it seems the owner is happily defying anti-smoking laws.  Stale smoke clings to the air, plaster and books; it gags those of us who don’t burn through 5 packs a day.  Perhaps he or she believes that as long as they light up in the privacy of their back-of-store office, no one will notice.  Or, perhaps, they don’t give a flying dutchman.  Whatever the mentality/logic behind his or her behaviour, they have lost a potential return customer because of it.

So, if  you find people don’t linger as long as they used to — or no longer come at all — there’s  a chance that something is rotten in the book shop.

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Comment (15)

    Therese Holland
    November 6, 2010 - 5:02 am

    I agree
    I have had my shop for over four years and whenever I step into the back room I get a whiff of old stale smoke from the previous occupants
    I don’t know that it will ever dissipate

    JuleS
    November 6, 2010 - 8:29 am

    Smoking in a bookstore? The owner ought to be drawn and quartered! I’m surprised he/she is still in business given the very fussy regard we booklovers hold our books. You’re in Australia, though, aren’t you — smoking may be more tolerated there than here in the U.S., although you mention anti-smoking laws so there must be some resistance to the evil habit (to which I used to be hooked).

    The manager of the building in which my office and quasi-bookstore is located also defies our state’s (Illinois) anti-smoking laws, and some days it is almost insufferable. My bookstore is open only a couple of evenings each week and the manager is usually gone by 4:00, but of course the odor lingers long after he leaves.

    Brian Green
    November 6, 2010 - 12:03 pm

    It’s absolutely outrageous — especially in my home province of Ontario. We’ve even gone to the point of banning smoking within 3 metres (or 9 feet) of public building entrances and transit facilities (in Toronto, at least).
    What I don’t get is why he/she would do so when they know the smoke is going to get into his/her books.

    P. J. Grath
    November 6, 2010 - 1:01 pm

    I’ll never forget the couple who visited my shop 15 years ago and brought their pile of treasures to the counter to pay with the observation, “Your books don’t smell bad at all!” Someone had written about my bookstore in a more general feature article about used bookstores, thrift shops, etc., and he had mentioned how he even loved smelly books. No, no, no! I was thankful the visitors had braved my store at all after reading the article.

    Bernadine
    November 6, 2010 - 9:32 pm

    I’m with you on an all senses approach. I opened up my little bookshop just a year ago, in a shop that had been vacant for 5 years, and a takeaway fish ‘n’ chip shop for about 15 years prior. Thankfully, a lot of hardwork, paint, two goes at industrially stripping, cleaning and resealing the floors meant that there is no residual smell whatsoever.

    We keep everything light and airy, with a bit of a retro theme, and no dark corners (although I gather some bookshoppers love nooks and crannies). We are constantly being told how lovely the shop looks and (by locals) amazed that the smell has gone!

    In fact, our home garden roses are in full bloom at the moment, and you’ve just reminded me it’s time to take some down to the bookshop counter!

      Judy
      November 8, 2010 - 5:45 pm

      Bernadine, nice to meet another Aussie bookseller! Your comment about your roses being in full bloom made me think … hmmm, she’s probably somewhere in the southern hemisphere. My roses are in full bloom too, here in Adelaide.
      I agree about having a light, airy bookshop – my ageing eyes just don’t read titles and blurbs in the semi-darkness these days!

        Bernadine
        November 8, 2010 - 8:00 pm

        Hi Judy – yep, another south-eastern Aussie. In fact, about as far south-east as you can get without touching Tasmania! Gippsland is a very secret part of the world and we are in a little town in the foothills – great community and wonderful for families. Lots to do, and still lots of keen readers (thank goodness). I’m doing what I can to encourage young readers, and have even started an online magazine club up at the primary school: I figured I might as well get them reading and writing in whatever format reaches them.

        They’re not averse to print, though – the kids also come down to the shop to pick up books from our Classics Club collection. Great to see 8 year olds enjoying Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Three Musketeers, Anne of Green Gables etc (and not just asking for Captain Underpants or Diary of A Wimpy Kid).

        Will post a pic of the roses on the counter – lots of nice customer comments since putting them there on Sunday!

        – cheers, Bernadine

    Caro Hedge
    November 7, 2010 - 12:39 am

    The smell from the beauty shop next door is usually faint, but when the nail lady comes in, THAT smell is yucky. Lucky they only do nails once or twice a week. We are trying to figure out a way to block it. I’d be less forgiving but the lady is fantastic and also takes deliveries for us and sends customers our way. One of those mixed blessing things.

    Brian Green
    November 7, 2010 - 1:00 am

    The owner of a book shop located in the Annex (one of Toronto’s more ecclectic neighbourhoods), is fond of burning incense in his store. Now, some may be driven away by the faint smoke and odour, but it is a good way to neutralize any and all less-than-friendly smells that accompany some of his clientele.

    Michael
    November 7, 2010 - 4:07 pm

    I make it a point to stop and smell each and every time I walk into my shop. You would be amazed at how often a smell that had not been noticed when we were in the shop suddenly jumps out. Lots of times its a pile of books that came in and did not seem so bad at the time, but after being outside and coming in we can smell them. Its an ongoing issue in the used trade.

    Benjamin L Clark
    November 8, 2010 - 11:52 am

    CATS!! I know there’s a certain cache for having a bookshop cat, but when your shop smells like a litter box, I will barely cross your thresh-hold, and will never return.

    Jo
    November 9, 2010 - 11:45 pm

    I do everything I can to keep the smells fresh… not being a fan of the musty dusty shelves that have dominated secondhand bookselling over the last few decades! We have open shelves (ex video-shop shelving) and that seems to help. Often have fresh flowers, and sometimes even have an oil-burner on the go. The only time a customer recoiled from the smell and left (that I’m aware of anyway) was when I’d just painted the pews. Purple. I think it was the smell and not the colour!

      Brian Green
      November 10, 2010 - 9:11 pm

      Purple pews? I take it you’ve set up shop in a former church, then — or that you’ve purchased said pews and set them up in your shop? Either way, I’d love to see pictures.

    Bend without breaking. | Bookshop Blog
    November 12, 2010 - 11:01 am

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    […] are important ways in which a bookstore must present itself to maintain a customer base (especially the smell of the store), I feel that there are also certain intangible qualities that can define whether a bookstore is […]

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