Cats vs Dogs- who rules the bookstore world?

Bookstore beast
Did I hear you say its time to go to the store?

The cliche is that every bookstore has a cat, but it’s actually fairly rare to encounter pets at bookstores anymore.  Chains definitely don’t have them, so only indies still have the classic bookstore cat.  One of the common notes in listings for books on online venues is “comes from a smoke free, pet free home”.  These generally appear in listings from people selling off items on ebay, Craiglist, and so on, who clearly aren’t operating a bookstore fulltime.  While allergies are a concern for some, I’ve never had a customer actually ask whether the store has a critter in residence. Nor ask if I smoke. I can only recall one person with allergies severe enough that they decided not to buy once they saw the dog (and that was largely an issue of being unable to browse with the dog following her around going “why won’t the nice person pet me?”)

Have the days of the cozy bookstore with a cat (or dog) asleep in the window gone away? Are used bookstores now expected to be dust and dander free zones where every book and surface has been cleaned ’til it sparkles with everything in neat alphabetical order?  Or is the dust, fluff, and the cat sleeping on top of the teetering pile of books part of the charm of the indie?

Sleeping on the job... again.  Worst watchdog ever.
Sleeping on the job... again. Worst watchdog ever.

From the comments from my customers, much of the charm is indeed that there is a dog in residence.  People bring her cookies.  She amuses children while parents browse.  And generally looks cute sleeping in the window or amidst a pile of books.  People stop in just to pet the dog and something catches their eye while they were there and they walk out with another book they just had to have.  They never would have come in if it weren’t for the dog in the window.  She is the best form of advertising.

The dog also appears on the frequent buyer discount card. When someone else is minding the store and the dog is left at home, people are often disappointed that there is no dog to pet.  If she doesn’t immediately come scampering at the sound of the bell on the door, customers first question is often “where’s the dog?”

The book you want is ALWAYS under the cat
The book you want is ALWAYS under the cat

While I don’t have a cat at the store proper, I have two cats at home that patrol the stacks of rare books, sleep in the shipping boxes and generally sit on whatever it is you’re trying to work on. There is, of course, the occasional crash noise as they tip over a stack.

Cats and dogs seem to be the only pets that appear at most stores, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a store out there with something unusual like an iguana or parrot.  If you own a bookstore, do you have a creature in residence?  Or if you’re a reader, does your local indie have a furry little helper? Is a pet in residence a turn off or turn on? (assuming that the pet is well mannered.  Nobody likes a cat that bites your hand when you pet it… like the white beast shown here.  There’s a reason he’s not at the store proper.)

Who rules the bookstore pet world, cats or dogs? (pictures are of course welcomed)

10 thoughts on “Cats vs Dogs- who rules the bookstore world?”

  1. Wonderful posting Nora.

    I, for one, do appreciate shop animals. I’ve even gotten to meet dogs and cats in offices and retirement homes as well as shops. It does add a friendly touch to the atmosphere.

    Times have changed as you said and there are fewer of them. I suppose fear of litigation is one reason although one could stick warning labels on them. For a shop dog it would have to be one that is well trained to not jump on people nor to get too ‘frisky’ with their children.

    One thing always gets cynical me re: “comes from a smoke free, pet free home”. I’m certain the majority of those sellers buy stock from yard/rummage sales and although ‘their’ home may be as advertised…

  2. Our bookstore name, Dog Ears Books, has always been a double-ententre. Nikki, the dog, came into our lives before the bookstore opened. When she departed (a sad time for us), many years later, we had another dog within a year. Sarah is the bookstore dog now.

    We’re in a very small town that explodes annually when summer people and tourists come Up North, and our bookstore has always taken a lot of its identity from the resident book dog, first Nikki, now Sarah.

    I can’t imagine my bookstore without a dog.

  3. My store has a cat. Allergies have never been a problem with regular cleaning (of the store and the cat), and an ionizer in one corner.

    The cat has been an excellent addition to the store and I can hardly remember what it was like before I had him. Not only do the customers dote on him, he actually does an okay job keeping pests away.

    I guess the only concern I really have is one of safety. He is an exceptionally gentle, tolerant, and friendly cat but children often play too rough with him and I worry that one day he’ll scratch someone. It hasn’t happened yet, though, so here’s to hoping!

  4. If you have a pet in your store you will hear from all the other pet lovers. You will not hear from the folks who do not shop at your store because of the pet. I do not have an animal in my store but I do often times hear from people who hate a fellow local store that does have pets. I personally pay less for books that are brought into my store with pet hair to cover my cost in cleaning them. Lots of customers are turned off by books covered in pet hair. I guess if you view your shop as a hobby then keeping pets is great. If you view your shop is a business then leave the pets home.

  5. Michael is absolutely right in that having a dog or cat on the premises won’t please everyone. There are many ways a bookstore can be great and still fail to please everyone, and pets are only one such feature. For instance, a store that handles used books only will disappoint shoppers looking for new books, and those who wander into a shop only offering new titles when they want used will often trudge right back out with gloomy faces. (You might think that having a mix of new and used would please everyone, but there will still be sought-after titles the store won’t have in stock.) Some people like a chaotic mess (thinking the owners “won’t know what they have” and treasures will be cheap as dirt), while others want every store to be neat as a pin, everything labeled, with not a smidgeon of dust–and no surprises–anywhere. Some browsers want to be left alone; others want their hands held and their life stories solicited. I’ve been in bookstores where the proprietor and customers smoked! (No smoking in my store!) The bottom line is that no single bookstore will be everyone’s #1 favorite, but part of being a truly independent bookseller is offering a unique and personal bookstore experience. My bookstore is my life, not my job—and certainly not my “hobby”! It has been supporting itself and buying groceries and paying dental and veterinarian bills and property taxes and more for 16 years. There are more ways to succeed than there are to fail, and each of us finds our own path.

  6. I see in re-reading my post it came off in more of a harsh tone than I meant for it to. I guess I have seen to many people who open up a shop thinking that if they do what they like everyone will come and spend money. This is mostly based on their assumption that everyone must think the same way they do. As an example I will point to the old lady who opens up a shop selling nothing but cheap paperback romance novels. As a general rule they find out that there just are not enough people who think the same way to ever allow the store to make money.

    The bottom line is that there are just not that many readers anymore. For most of us the only way to keep a store open and making money is to get and keep every reader in our area. For me that means doing whatever I can so as not to turn anyone away.

  7. We are probably a little unique in that we have a zebra that greets the customers as the enter the store. Sure it’s made of plaster, but it catches a lot of attention. Kids immediately see it and are gleeful about the zebra. Some come and pet it. Bookstore pets are a great archetype – we’re glad to add ours to the mix. You can take a look at our website to see the zebra. By the way, we have no clean-up problems, allergies, running low on food, having people stuff the pet with cookies, or other such issues.


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