Bookstores: Do your customers play the piano and feed the fish?

“Do people really sit down and play chess at that table?” I was asked just this morning – referring to a table where I have a chess set permanently set up.  And the answer is a resounding yes.

I’ve learned over the years that anything put out in the shop WILL be handled, used, read, sat at, on, in, or slept in.  Yes, that’s right, I did say slept in.  In my first year of opening, I had a newborn baby to contend with, and so I would set up the portacot in the shop for his naps (it didn’t really work as well as I’d hoped).  One day, I had some customers who, on seeing an empty portacot, lay a sleeping infant in it!!!

Surprised and astounded.  Astounded and surprised…

Other things that customers do whilst in the shop, apart from the obvious one of sitting on the chairs reading books for the afternoon (without eventually purchasing them) are:

– playing the piano (the younger ones always tentatively ask, “Do you mind?”, the older, more brash adults just sit and pelt out a tune).  Generally, I enjoy this.  It adds a real atmosphere to the shop.

– feed the fish (the fishfood is near enough to the tank for our convenience).  I don’t mind this, and the fish are no doubt happy with such an arrangement.

– taking the odd flower from a vase of fresh flowers I sometimes manage to put out (it’s not always freshly supplied but it’s an aim).

– playing the games I have on top of the piano (left ostensibly for my children when I need to entertain them in the shop, but I don’t mind customers using them either).

– using the bathroom (more often through January with tourists on the go).

– a variation on the customer who reads books for the afternoon without making a purchase is the customer who pulls up a chair near the cook books and copies out recipes into their small notebook

– I have boxes of magazines for $1 each – and have had a customer ask if he could just take a page out of one, he didn’t want the whole mag…

– walk their dogs in (with or without leads – and yes, one did do number twos on the mat once!)

I guess I forget sometimes that my shop is a public space, and people will do what people do.

3 thoughts on “Bookstores: Do your customers play the piano and feed the fish?”

  1. It appears you have built a world for yourself and your community somewhere in the middle of a fairy tale/horror story. I am sure there is a lot of joy in your life and hope the “dark side” never comes close to creating a balance.

    There is a 1980’s-1990 book out there called “Positioning” by Al Reis and a co-author (I think his name is Trout).

    Briefly it advises you to decide who you want to be and then go about being just that.

    Each of us has the ability to create our own world and when we don’t – others will fill in the gaps and thrust their vision upon us.

    Building a world, and a business atmosphere, for book lovers should fit into the grand scheme of things somewhere – but it won’t “just happen”.

    Good luck

    • What a marveously brilliant world-view to have. Very few of the book shops I’ve encountered seem to have even considered this approach to their businesses — let alone taken it to heart.

  2. I put a brush beside one of the chairs in my store, and it is the rare moment now that a customer isn’t brushing the store cat. His fur is really soft now.

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