Heavens knows it’s not to make a fortune. If a bookstore stays in business for longer than the time it took to type this article, they’re doing well. If one has lasted a few years, that’s amazing. If they’ve been around for decades, that’s a miracle. I can’t speak to why some decide that they NEED to work with the written word, not want, but need. As a once actress, I remember the definition of a true actor–you act because you must, you can’t do anything else, you live to perform. So, if someone was in acting class and they hadn’t that kind of dedication and passion, the chances for their succeeding was not good. At least, that’s the mantra. But I believe it, and I feel the same way about selling books, be they new, used, rare, or beat up crap. it’s not a choice, it’s a passion and obsession, almost an illness.
So who has this illness, and why? What genetic factor combined with a socioeconomic scenario creates a person who loves the book so much they go without most luxuries during their lifetime, labor to get the word to people around them, and spend most of their time packing, unpacking, and shelving the objects of their love?
I don’t think it’s genetic. But I do believe it can be familial influence. If someone within your home while growing up is a nut for books, chances are you either never want to look at such a thing again as long as you live, or you follow in that person’s bookprints.
My mother read a great deal–not to me, per se, but nonetheless I gained her love for reading just from watching her enjoy mysteries. Naturally, as a little kid I had all the golden books and cheaper storybooks my parents could afford, but the love for reading came through osmosis. My mother’s cousin’s children’s Nancy Drews and Judy Boltons were handed down to me, and I went wild on them, After, I found juvenile mysteries of Phyllis A Whitney and Mary Stewart. I’d get a catalog for those paperbacks you’d order through school, and spend hours trying to choose which ones I wanted–budgets were in effect. As a teen and in college and beyond I read many different genres, bios, and how-toos, and classics, and poetry, etc etc but as time flowed on, my interests became narrower, and I became my mother in that mysteries were my specific vice, if vice it is.
But I was never bitten by the bug to open a bookstore and try to sell my particular interests to the public. I wouldn’t know how to begin. And I wouldn’t enjoy it. The business end of any endeavor is beyond my comprehension, and interest–I would despise spending limits, returns, counting the pennies all which are essential, vital, for a successful business. And the stress!! The never ending worries–will we make payroll this week, or if not that dire–which publishers are we on hold with? Which new titles from what publisher do we need most–that’s the bill we better pay. Or, we overbought a title, now we need to strip all of them to return, even though we will have a loss–it’s better than keeping them and getting nothing for the expenditure. And even though we like the author, and hate to have to send back their titles knowing it will effect their royalties. And firing someone for laziness, or incompetence, or just plain lack of business would really suck. Hiring wouldn’t be any easier for me. I would want to employ everyone who bothered to apply if they seemed really eager to do the job, regardless of experience, which would be downright dumb of me.
So, who out there puts themselves through this process? And then works night and day to keep the place afloat, who wants to be on the floor helping customers while at the same time trying to juggle bills? What do these noble beings get out of this hell called owning a bookstore?
I don’t know–you tell me.