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Once a Bookseller

A B. Dalton Bookstore in Slidell, LA.
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For several years, I worked part-time as a bookseller at B. Dalton, a small chain which was later bought by Barnes & Noble. I had gone into the store with my niece and applied on a whim. At my interview, the manager and I hit it off, and very soon I was working during the day as an administrative assistant to a financial planner. Then I would slog through hideous “rush hour” traffic to get to the bookstore at a mall only six miles from my condo; however, it was 15 miles from my day job, which was a challenge, with only one hour to make the trip. I did 6–10 pm Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 10 – 6 on Saturdays. It was an additional 20 hours added to my work week, but it brought in some welcome additional income. Best of all, it was so different from every other job I had ever had, and it involved books!

Within a few weeks of beginning the job, I was greeted with the unpleasant news that Corporate was not renewing our lease at the mall. They told us that those of us who were interested would be interviewed at a sister store at a mall much closer to my office. I was able to make the transition, but first we had to break down the store which was closing. It was a monumental task and somewhat heartbreaking, because we ended up stripping the covers from and trashing untold numbers of paperback books, since it would have cost too much to ship them back. But first, we were given voluminous lists of books which were in inventory, to be packed to go to other stores. All of this was complicated by a leaking ceiling, and by the time we had the store stripped down to bare walls, I was, for the first time in my life, tired of books!

Luckily my interest bounced back as soon as I started at the new store. I love books, getting to be around them, touching them, finding favorites and making new ones. We were allowed to take home any of the new hardcover books as they came in. In fact, we were encouraged to do so, since it’s much easier to talk up a book if you can honestly say you’ve read and enjoyed it yourself. It was always such a pleasure when a satisfied customer would come back and thank me for recommending a book. Then I would get to talk about books and my favorite authors some more.

The worst part about the job was being on my feet for hours at a time. It took me a while, but I finally found shoes that worked, and eventually the agony became mere discomfort. Another not-so-fun job was shelving. The receiving clerk would open boxes of books all day and pack the wheeled carts with the most incredible assortment of books. There was no rhyme or reason. One book might be a history, then a book on photography, one on sports and then 15 copies of five different children’s stories. I logged a lot of miles in my comfortable shoes.

Our store had a lot of affluent shoppers. One day a woman wearing loads of jewelry came in with her husband in tow. After a while they approached the sales counter and the wife handed me four or five large, expensive books on gardening. As I rang up the sale, I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. The husband demanded to know why she was paying all that money for books when they had a gardener. She simply gave him a look and calmly replied, “Yes, but I have to know how to tell him what to do.” And handed me her platinum Visa.

My favorite experience was when I waited on Lynda Carter (of “Wonder Woman” fame), who lived not so far away. I had just seen her a few nights before in a TV version of LaVyrle Spencer’s “Family Matters”, and I’m afraid I just sort of babbled at her. She was very sweet and didn’t seem to mind. Actually I waited on her twice, but the next time I managed to gush less.

When my time at the book store ended, I was sad, but my feet were very happy. To this day, when I’m in a bookstore, I still find my hands reaching out to tidy a messy shelf, or to put copies of the same book together, as I had done so many times before. I guess once a bookseller, always a bookseller.


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