What It’s Really Like To Work At A Bookstore

What is something I noticed about working at a bookstore? I drink a lot of coffee. I can’t help it! The whole place smells like warm chocolate coffee goodness and I get 50% off in the cafe! I rub the spines of books like I’m in a movie and not on the clock and I read the backs of books when I should be shelving. Working at a bookstore allows me to bring my passion for reading into my life everyday.

Is working at a bookstore what I thought it would be? No. For one, my feet always hurt. We are supposed to dress business casual (understandably) and I invested in a really nice pair of flats but soon realized working at a bookstore is more physical than I thought it would be. It’s tiring. We do carry stacks of books in our arms, and reach and bend for shelving. But mostly, we spend a lot of time running around, scouring for books, and cleaning up the store.

Before working at a bookstore I thought all the customers would be great people, who wanted to discuss books with me and who valued my recommendations. I knew not everyone would be there looking for the fantasy books I love, but I figured I would at least get to talk fiction literature most of the day. Turns out, a ton of people are reading nonfiction- way more than I imagined. I get a lot of questions about diet/cookbooks, business, sports and instructional books. I’ve become well acquainted with the technology books geared toward the older generation just looking for a book on how to use their phone. My first week on the job I didn’t get a single person asking for a recommendation. And let me tell you, I was disappointed. I began (and still do) lurk around my favorite sections and ask browsers if they need help in hopes that they’ll say, “Yes actually, have you read anything from here you can recommend?”  When it happens, I take full advantage of their listening ear.

Not everyone is as pleasant as I thought they would be. I don’t know why I assumed readers are kind, intelligent people, but I did. Turns out, retail is retail. Sometimes I get people who are upset we don’t have the book they’re looking for and take it out on me. I get people who complain, and yell about prices. Of course, I get the threats that they will “just get it from Amazon” like they are hoping they take the loss of sale directly out of my paycheck. I get a lot of parents and students that just want to get the required school readings and get out. Of course, this isn’t everyone, it’s just something I wasn’t expecting. Most of the time I get really pleasant people, people who are interested in talking about books with me. The best is when they start recommending books to me that they’ve read and their eyes just light up with excitement. Another personal favorite moment is when someone comes in for anything Harry Potter. Any time I get to talk about HP is a good time (Except when they are looking for Cursed Child in which I sullenly over the lie of a book) .

I have to say I really love working at a bookstore. I do get to spend time around books, which I love. I get to find and discover books I would never have thought about otherwise. On top of that, it’s exciting to stay up on the newest titles and to see how we connect with publishers. I love knowing what books were just released or what’s coming out soon because I can keep track of what’s popular, what people are interested in, and what I might find interesting. I feel like I have some sort of inside scoop because I know the secrets behind the books. I know what books people are actually buying and I know which ones publishers care about pushing forward. Of course staying on top of books means I always have a huge wish list. We get a great discount,  (30% of books!) and I have had to try to limit myself to not giving my entire paycheck back to the store. I usually leave with about a book a week, and I know that my friends and family will be getting books this year because they up the discount for the holidays.

Not everyone coming into the bookstore is interested in what I’m interested in when I think of books, and that was disappointing. It’s still a job, we work the registers, we clean, we organize, just like any other business. On the other hand, it’s not just like any other business. Bookstores have a magic in the air that I still feel everyday I walk in. The whole place smells wonderful and I get to walk around bookshelves organizing them the way I want. People want to talk about books with me and I am in my comfort zone. My coworkers are hilarious, fun, interesting people! Working the holiday reset shift from 8pm to 3am is a great time, we all get to be ourselves and just have fun. At the end of the day, I get to be a part of a business putting books into the world, and that’s something I feel passionate about.

– Sarah Bodnar

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