As a way of expressing my thanks to the bookstores at which I read, I offer up my blog-space to the owners so they can say whatever comes to mind. Some of the earlier readings were at bigger stores where, for obvious reasons, it was not possible for me to make this offer nor indeed for them to accept. So here is the first such from Rachel Trauger, at the Doylestown Bookshop where I read today with Rachel Pastan.
If you’ve ever been a returning customer of an independent bookstore, you might be familiar with the bare facts of the independent vs. chain debate that are often brought up to explain why local shops are so great to have around. You might have heard already that 25% more of the money spent on books at an independent goes back into the community, or that independents are more than twice as likely to donate to charity. [Source: Indie Bound – http://www.indiebound.org]. The arguments are practical in their persuasion, but they’re not my main reason for loving independents. My reason is far more sentimental.
There are currently 12 people on staff at the Doylestown Bookshop, including me. Eight of us work 40 hour weeks. Eight have been here for at least two years. Our makeup is similar to that of a small office: we are around each other constantly; some of us are “lifers,” some of us are content for the moment, and some of us are actively using this place as a stepping stone for bigger (if not necessarily better) things. Yet, we’ve got a bonding advantage over small offices in the fact that we are all “book people.” We don’t have many conflicting personality quirks because our main quirk is the same: we’d rather stay in and read.
As voracious readers often are, my co-workers are sensitive, perceptive, and quick-witted. There’s no better company than these people. I’ve come to know their husbands and wives, their mothers, their grandmothers, and their dogs. I’ve joined two of their book clubs and discovered new literary loves that I would not have thought to read otherwise – Shirley Jackson, Suzanne Collins, Charles Burns. I’ve laughed until my stomach hurt nearly every work day since January 2009, which is approximately the time I let go of my reservations and let myself settle here. It’s not infrequent that you’ll find me here at the store half an hour after punching out, lost to time in a co-worker’s story.
Having worked at a chain before (for groceries, not books), my manager’s comment upon my hiring that “the owners are really hands on with the business and in the store almost every day” made me immediately anxious. At a chain, “the owners” are people to be feared: CEOs making their monthly visits to the store demanding that our shirts be tucked in, our posture be straight, and socializing with anyone other than the customer not occur.
But at the bookshop, the owners aren’t suited, scary CEOS. They’re Pat and Phil. Pat sings karaoke with our staff at the store’s annual holiday party and Phil nervously laughs over the store’s intercom when he has to make an announcement. They buy a cake or pizza whenever an employee leaves. When one of us has a problem, they will commit themselves for hours—seriously, hours—to helping us find the best solution. They’re maternal and paternal types: open with their criticism but free with their compliments, too.
Financial benefits considered, my reason for supporting independents is to keep this spirit of familial cooperation and happiness at work — yes, happiness at work! — alive, if only in one cozy little nook of the community. I’m not saying you won’t find the same type of atmosphere at a chain. I just know for a fact that you can find it here, and it will likely always be my impression of independents, even after I’ve moved on from the Bookshop.