Saturday, August 22, 2009

Return to Normalcy

Warren G. Harding (who is, to the best of my knowledge, the only President to date who has sported a middle name of Gamaliel) ran for office in 1920 on the "return to normalcy" ticket. The war-weary country swept him into office, along with a Republican majority in the Congress. While I am not a particular fan of Warren Harding, I can understand the attraction of his promise for the country at the time. I've bounced around from upheaval to upheaval over the past few years, and I'm just about ready to sew up the borders.

Like most aspects of being in business for myself, the bookstore's denouement has been both more time-consuming and more costly than I anticipated. When I decided to close the doors, I didn't really stop to consider that I could be left with, literally, thousands of books on the shelves. I was too proud to discount the new books any more than 50%, reasoning that I could send them back, and refusing to give the vultures who were circling, waiting for the 90%-off fire sale, the satisfaction. And this is, on a theoretical level, true. I CAN send the books back for credit from my distributor. The question is, when exactly do I plan on doing that? Since I started my new job, I've begun a 40 minute daily commute, dove headlong into a demanding new position, and tried to deal with 9-5 type bookstore issues before 8 or after 6. This weekend, I'm in Norfolk for drill. It reminds me a lot of my shipboard days, during which I grew to resent such normal, mundane tasks as laundry and toenail maintenance. I've got a buyer for the shelves who wants to come pick them up Thursday night, but no buyer for the books. And as much as I would love to recover the money I've hemorraghed over the past 18 months, I'm going to draw the line at dragging several thousand books into our basement.

I called this week to set up a haircut appointment with a woman who used to cut my hair at the Navy Exchange when I was stationed in Norfolk on active duty. She was a lively little Filipino woman who bantered constantly and almost always cut my hair too short. Still, I knew what to expect, and I liked having a regular "stylist." She had left the Navy Exchange just before I left active duty to establish a salon with her sister in a little shopping center in Virginia Beach. When I called, her sister said she didn't work there and hadn't for several months. She wouldn't tell me where the woman had gone, but I already knew where to find her. I got my hair cut by her this evening at the Norfolk Navy Exchange. She'd gone back to her normal, and I understood it perfectly.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Closed Due To???

I understand human nature, I fancy even better than most. Extended time spent floating around on the open ocean on a 500-600 foot long hunk of steel with 300 folks of varying ages, backgrounds, education and personal hygiene levels gave me that much (along with really bad habits of wanting to eat pizza every Friday and wear flip flops in the shower). Add to that over a year of seeing ALL kinds of people come in and out of the book store and I pretty much have a BS in, well, B.S. So it should come as no surprise to me, nor should it be particularly upsetting, that my going out of business sale has been like blood in the water. The chum bag shaken into the water from the boat stern. The death throes of the slowly dying animal. To the tune of, the website got 2-3 times as many hits as before, and I did more business in the six weeks between the initial announcement and today than any other six MONTH period to date. I've managed, for the most part, to stay philosophical about this. I reason that people in general are going through economic hard times and want their money to stretch as far as possible. So, while they may not buy a new book at regular cost, they might be able to reconcile one at 50% off with their budget. While they might not be able to find the store for, oh, I don't know, fifteen months prior to the going out of business sale, the big sale might provide the impetus to call or check the website for directions.

But enter the offer of free books for teachers, and things reached the kind of fevered pitch seen only approximately twice in retail America: Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle-me-Elmo. Okay, maybe the X-box too. Last Saturday was my first day of the offer, and it was the first time I'd ever had more cars in the parking lot than the tattoo parlor during mutual business hours. If statements to the effect of, "I'm sorry I didn't know about this sooner," were nickels, there would be no reason for me to go out of business. In fact, if only half the people who came in the store last Saturday, yesterday and today had come in even once during the 15 months I was open and bought one or two books, there would be no reason for me to go out of business. This in spite of the fact that I sent multiple emails, flyers and announcements out to all Petersburg teachers through the same channels that I sent the free offer. This in spite of the fact that I offered through those same channels teacher and student discounts, multiple free literacy programs for kids and over 6,000 used books at bargain prices. Either something about the word "free" really makes people sit up and take notice, people regularly ignore emails from the school district's administrative offices, or the what's in it for me factor wasn't high enough before.

I get that opportunism is common to all mankind. It's part of what makes us human, kind of like opposable thumbs. And Lord knows I would do some of the same things--in fact, I did, when I was getting ready to open the bookstore. I scoured the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area for the best bargains, went to all the big sales and loaded up with as much for as little as I could. I know this on a cerebral level. That didn't stop me from having a sick feeling in my gut as people gleefully rummaged through the bargain bins of my children's room, picked out their free books and rolled out, seemingly without a second thought. I couldn't help but wonder if they stopped to consider the cause and effect of, hey, if I had come here a couple of times, maybe this little store could have really made a difference in our community. Not once, as a sort of going out of business swan song, but repeatedly. There are a lot of people in Petersburg who got that. I will miss them as if they were family. But there are a whole lot more who did not. And that's why my doors are closed.