Making It Memorable with an Impromptu Salon

A Guest Post by Pamela Grath
July and August are hectic in a summer resort town. I had started work on a piece about taking time to recharge with a quiet early morning hour outdoors or in a garden cafe, or, later in the day, putting the “Be Right Back” sign on the door and going out for a dog walk or an ice cream cone, and then something happened at Dog Ears Books that happens every now and then, something much more focused on what it is that interests all of us, i.e., running not just any retail business but specifically a bookshop.
Meeting writers and introducing them to one another is one of the great joys of being a bookseller (at least, that’s true for me, and I assume other booksellers have discovered the pleasure for themselves), so when two poet friends and a fiction writer from Detroit happened to arrive one after the other at my bookstore, I was happy to make them acquainted with one another and get a conversation started. The real fun, however, came when the two poets began asking each other about their work.
Neither poet had a pocketful of poems to share, but my friend from Grand Rapids memorizes hers and recites them, rather than reading, at events, so I asked her to give us a couple. She took a minute to go “into the zone” and then began. Other browsers in the store edged closer. At the end of each of her poems, applause was spontaneous. The whole thing had been spontaneous—and that’s my point.
It’s easy, even in the bookstore, to get caught up in the frenzy of summer–or holidays or whatever your particular busy time is. Requests from authors to have book signings during such a season can provoke ambivalence in the bookseller: Yes, we might get a good crowd, but we already have crowds, and I’m overwhelmed right now! One of the beauties of the impromptu salon is that it requires no advance planning. No advertising. No refreshments to buy. All that’s needed is that the bookseller be alert to the possibilities of the moment.
More and more, I am convinced that what we are selling in a bookstore—and here’s an area where the bricks-and-mortar business differs sharply from online selling—is a total experience. In my bookstore, philosophy is often the focus of an impromtu salon. Sometimes it’s economics. Yesterday it was poetry.
My dog greets customers as they come in the door. When they leave, I encourage them to take free county maps. In between we talk to each other about books we’ve read or are thinking about reading, as well as about our gardens, our projects, our travels, families and pets, and people look forward to visiting my shop on their annual summer vacation, as I look forward to visiting bookstores in the U.P. when I go “Up North” later in the year. Those customers lucky enough to be on hand when an impromptu salon springs into being get something extra special to remember and tell their friends about.
Make it memorable, and they will return! Mine do.

Pamela Grath

Dog Ears Books

106 Waukazoo Street

P.O. Box 272

Northport, MI  49670