Sunday, June 7, 2009

Shelf Life at the Bookstore

Introducing: The New Staff Pick Shelf at The Bookstore

We're going to try something new. Although we pride ourselves on our customer service and our knowledge of books ("the little Indie that could"), sometimes you have to step back, take an honest look at yourself and say, hmmm, maybe we can do better.

On one recent Saturday afternoon, Elizabeth Berg walked in our bookstore, having come for a visit from nearby Oak Park, and unfortunately none of our full-time staffers were there to greet her. (I say greet, but what I really mean is drool, grovel, swoon.) She generously offered to sign some of her titles that we had on hand, and hopefully enjoyed a leisurely browse through the store. Our teen later mentioned: "an author came in today and signed this book," showing us Home Safe, Elizabeth Berg's latest fiction title.

Our (older, saggier, full-time staffer) jaws dropped. We'd missed a great chance to chat books with one of our favorite local authors. I felt bad, thinking she didn't get the reception she deserved. Unlike the day Cathleen Falsani, author of Sin Boldly walked in, and I did in fact gush all over her. So much that she actually blessed me -- that was cool. How many booksellers can say they've been blessed by a customer?

And then I started worrying that some of our other customers aren't getting the reception they deserve. As a little Indie bookstore, we love to boast that we have more passion and a more personal connection to our books than the big box bookstores. When we recommend a book it's because we actually read it and loved it, not because some big executive with shiny shoes decided to put a marketing blitz on it.

But honestly, it's a little hypocritical to make fun of a chain employee who hasn't read the book when many of our own staff at The Bookstore haven't yet either. We try to hire some of the sharpest, most literate kids in town, but they're busy with AP classes, finals and college applications, and don't always have time to obsess about the latest hot read like Jane, Sue, Jenny or I do. (And maybe that's a good thing. Save full-blown book geekdom for later in life, when you aren't worried about getting a date for the prom?)

Don't get me wrong -- they can probably still recite their favorite Shel Silverstein poem, and they can probably give you spot-on advice about whether your 12 year-old daughter should really be reading that hot new Young Adult title yet. One of our teens even has a binder of book reviews that he wrote when he was younger. So trust me, they're great kids who like books. But chances are they're not going to recognize Elizabeth Berg when she walks in the door. And maybe they won't recognize you.

So I really started to wonder: how can we make sure that all of our customers at The Bookstore receive true Indie treatment, even when a full-time staffer (and complete Indie book geek) isn't there to greet you?

Sue and I brainstormed the answer: the new "Staff Pick Shelf." Now you can browse through an entire shelf devoted to our personal recommendations. We've been busy writing up more of our blue staff pick cards, and gathering the best of the best on one shelf. As soon as our teens are done with school for the year, (And as soon as Jill gets back from Paris -- no fair!) we're going to get them busy filling out their own blue staff pick cards too. If you stroll in the bookstore, wondering what you should read next, just head straight to the new Staff Pick Shelf, and I absolutely, positively believe you will find your next good read. No matter who's working that day.

Soon you'll be seeing more blue cards over in the Young Adult and Rebecca Caudill Award List shelves too. These books are often really good reads for adults, not just kids, so both the teens and the adults on staff will be reading and reviewing them. There are a lot of mother-child book clubs in town, so we'll try to give you the perspective of both moms and teens.

Did you know that we have a whole stack of "Customer Favorite" and "Book Club Favorite" cards for you (and your kids/teens) to fill out too? If you just finished a terrific book, but can't drop by the store for awhile, just e-mail us with your name and comments, and we'll fill one out for you. Because not only do we like to talk about books, we like to hear what you think. Here at The Bookstore, we're a community of readers where recommendations go both ways!

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