Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Somewhere the Zebra is Dancing

I write this on Wednesday, May 21. With the holiday approaching (do you know that the uberpatriotic South , even to this day, treats Memorial Day as some kind of false holiday? That's a leftover from the Civil War, or the War of Northern Aggression as it's still called in some environs.

But my point is that the Memorial Day holiday means it will be that much more difficult to keep our stock levels up over the weekend. A couple of customers could clean us out on that hot new book you were waiting to read until your next day off.

Wednesday night/Thursday morning is always crunch time at the store. Thursday is the last day we can restock or promise next-day delivery. After 11 a.m., anything that's not in stock can't possibly be delivered before Monday. And a holiday means the delay is to Tuesday. If you want John McCain's Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them or The Host, Stephenie Meyer's venture out of the young adult world where she has been the most popular author of the year to cater to the not-so-young adult market, you might be out of luck if just one person decides now is the time to pick it up.

That's not so bad on a Tuesday, when we can promise it the next day because we will have restocked. And trust me, it is necessary for a local, independent bookstore to carefully manage its inventory - or go broke! So both of those books are down to one copy. If you want it on Saturday, but I sell it on Friday, I can't possibly get another copy until Tuesday.


Well, the problem then becomes that you aren't served. You then start to think "they probably won't have it," and a downward spiral begins. You decide to go elsewhere. I decide that I can't take a risk on a new title because, after all, I only sold one copy of that title last season.

That's the dilemma Ann and I face with the store. We can't "stock up" on a title because we believe in it. We can love it to death, but if our customers divide their purchases among a half-dozen stores, or if the raw number of customers who shop here, or if "our" customers just can't get down to actually browse and see and touch and read the books we pick, then the balloting is over. Local bookstore: Yes or No?

I sometimes tell the story (and reveal what a geek I am) about the old game SimCity. In SimCity you are given a set amount of money with which to build a city. If you build it right, not too fast and not too slow, if you hedge against disaster while investing for a greater future, you can win the game. Such simulations involve taxing and spending and zoning and transforming. And they require a clear vision of what you want your city to become.

So I will ask the listener, if you were building a city from scratch, what would you put in it? Roads. A post office. A church, and then more churches. A school, and then more schools. A university. A swimming pool. A park. Maybe a stadium. Certainly a library.

For your populace, what stores would you build or what businesses would you recruit? A hospital, a drugstore, a gas station, a florist, a jeweler, several groceries. A bookstore. Maybe even a brewery.

You are playing SimCity, if only in an indirect way. By your decisions and choices, you are creating the town you want. If you think your city should have, say, an ethnic restaurant of a certain type (or quality), then maybe you ought to eat there. Certainly you can't personally provide enough business to keep it going. But if you only eat there infrequently, aren't you really saying "I don't think we need, I don't want this restaurant?"

It's a push me-pull you equation. Your patronage allows a store to thrive instead of merely surviving. Your choice to shop locally may permit a business to survive rather than fail. And as more of your neighbors join you in making informed decisions about what kind of city you want, the thriving store might expand. It might offer more frequent programs to enrich your life. It might be able to carry more of what you want, or take risks on new products and services that you could only dream of having available locally.

Ann and I recognize fully that it is not your responsibility to enrich us. It is ours to enrich you. And we continue to try to do just that. We can't be and do everything, but we want to do everything we can to provide you with what you need and want.

By shopping locally first, you tell local businesses you want them in town. It's the most important vote you cast. A thriving business attracts more thriving businesses, and the city benefits from a richer, fuller life. The costs of living in a thriving city are, arguably, less than of living in a moribund one.

So, beginning in June, we're going to invest even more into this business and see whether your vote is yes or no. We don't believe you want us to go away - you just don't know what you're missing.

We're increasing the payroll. We're investing in more stock. And we're going to actively market to you, to expose you to fantastic books you've been missing. This blog (and I've promised it before and failed) will be the kind of place you'll want to visit frequently because it will be filled with something new every day. It might just be a rumination. It might just be a tip. It might be a review or an unsubtle "You've got to see this!"

The phrase that is the title of this post, I believe, will be, by the end of the year, a part of American culture. It's stated by the narrator of the book I'm reading now. I started it late last night and though I've worked a full day today, I'm a third of the way through it. I put in a rush order today with HarperCollins for a major amount of stock, including audiobooks and larger print editions, what Harper calls Luxe.

This book will be, as I predicted today, as big a seller as any sleeper I can remember. Bigger than Marley and Me. Bigger than Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Bigger, maybe, than Tuesdays With Morrie.

At the end of this day, we have one copy of the book. By the weekend we will have another half-dozen copies. By next week we'll have plenty for everybody. But even today, while handselling the book, I asked a patron to leave it on the shelf unless they promised to read it this weekend. I can sell it to you, who will, and sell it to him, who won't, next week.

Remember this blog post. Somewhere the zebra is dancing. That which you manifest is before you. Give me my thumbs, you f---ing monkeys! The field is fertile - beware. I embrace the fertility.

Tomorrow, I'll offer you more. For now, I'm going to finish my reading.

1 comment:

Ken Weber said...

Hi Randy!

You already know how much Mary and I value you, Ann, and Destinations. I know you sometimes must feel like a voice crying out in the Wilderness, but your actions in providing a tremendously needed spot of culture makes a great contribution to the city and the region.

Glad to read about your plans and will support them as much as possible. I still don't know what the Zebra book is about, and I couldn't find a follow up blog that explained it. I do, however, know a very corny joke about Zebras that Mary finds offensive because of its stupidity.

Good luck and don't let the Yahoos grind you down.