Friday, August 20, 2010

You Have the Right...

There is a business in town that only allows one student in the store at a time. No exceptions. That is their policy and whether we agree or disagree they know what is best for their company and have the right to make that decision.

My business does not have this policy. It would be very difficult to encourage students to read more for pleasure if I didn’t allow them in their local independent bookstore. Groups of kids or teens gathered around a section grabbing books off the shelf and talking all at once is one of my favorite things about this job. This is not the library, no need for silence. Share that enthusiasm!

This is how I felt five years ago when we opened and this is still how I feel today. Over the years I have realized that some policies will have to be implemented, though, if I want to stay in business. The first is that all food and beverages stay on the table in front of the store while browsing. This came about after one gentleman with arms loaded dropped his cup splattering coffee over an entire display. Very expensive accident. For me, not him. It was an accident after all.

Backpacks and school bags are also left on this table or at the front counter. Many times I don’t even have to ask. The kids file in, dropping their bags on the way to their favorite sections near the back of the store. Sometimes we have one lonely backpack slung over the chair and sometimes the table is stacked with bags. This frees up little hands for turning pages and prevents bags full of homework from being left behind. And yes, it does prevent shoplifting. I never had a problem with this policy, never a complaint. Until today.

Last Saturday two girls stopped in to browse for the first time. They were visiting grandma and were very excited to discover the bookstore. When they walked in I greeted them and asked them to drop their bags on the table. They did without complaint and set off to get lost among the shelves. When the older of the two set her choice on the counter we had a great discussion about why that book was chosen and how excited she was to read it. Then they picked up their bags and were off on their merry way.

Today grandma stopped in very upset that I took away her granddaughter’s bag. She wanted to know if that was the policy because she has been telling everyone about this incident and they were all as shocked as she was. Her granddaughter was embarrassed and if I was worried about her stealing I should have just asked her to open her bag so I could see she didn’t hide a book in there. What? Asking the girls to set their bags on the table is embarrassing but singling one out to search her bag wouldn’t be?

This is a small town business, so we don’t set a lot of rules. More than a few kids have brought in their new puppy, kitty or baby sister for me to meet. They have visited in swimsuits and on roller blades. They read out loud to me, to each other, or to the stuffed dinosaur. They are like family and I would never intentionally embarrass or hurt them in any way. I believe searching their bags before they leave would be an injustice 99% of these kids no more deserve than 99% of the adults do. What do you think? Is our current policy offensive and more embarrassing that the alternative?