We Need to Talk
Along with our fellow Traverse City businesses, we've noticed a rather disturbing trend of late, and it's something we all need to address.
We've seen an unusually high rate of bad behavior among customers this summer. Rudeness, disrespect, and casual disregard for fellow humans have run rampant, to the point where many businesses, including Short's Brewing, Rare Bird, Little Fleet, and Oryana have had to release statements asking customers to please remember that we're people, too.
Here's a little bit of our daily reality.
We arrive between 7:00 and 10:00 in the morning to start work in the store. Normally, there are eight full-time staff on hand (including booksellers, customer service staff, and shipping and receiving staff), plus two or three part timers available to help throughout the week, so we can have five or six people working on any given day. Now there are only seven total.
We clean and sanitize and, if weather permits, we prop open the doors to increase airflow. Our building is beautiful, but it's old, and the ventilation is minimal. We'll see as many as several hundred people come through the store when we're open, and while their visits typically last no more than 20 minutes, our staff remain inside all day.
Once the doors open and customers begin to trickle in, we multitask. We shelve and sanitize, we dust and remind customers to use hand sanitizer upon entering. We interrupt a conversation with one customer to apologize to another, letting them know that we're currently at maximum capacity and aren't able to allow any more customers in just yet. We explain that no, we're not open on Sundays or Mondays right now because we simply don't have the staff. We explain that we've had difficulting hiring experienced new booksellers. We explain that training takes longer when our managerial staff have to teach while also trying to serve customers. We answer the phone, and answer the phone, and answer the phone, all day long.
In between incoming calls, we try to squeeze in a few of our own, to contact publishers to ask what's causing delays on our deliveries. The answers are always the same. Backorders. Reprints. Scheduling difficulties. The book was canceled. The book was rescheduled. Then we have to contact our own customers and try to figure out solutions for them. It's not enough to say "I'm sorry, it's backordered" and leave it at that. We have higher standards. We ask if the customer wants to let the order stand as is, or if they'd prefer another book. We switch it from an in-store pickup to instead ship directly to their doorstep. We gift wrap. We write notes and letters. We send along extra goodies and occasionally a gift certificate or two.
We field questions about shipping delays. So many questions about shipping delays. Customers who want to know why their book hasn't been delivered, why it went to California first and then back to Michigan, why it's been sitting all weekend in a sorting hub. We can't answer those questions. You've seen the news reports. The recent changes to the postal system have wreaked havoc with deliveries nationwide, and there's nothing we, as a bookstore, can do to change that. But of course, we still try to do something about the disappointment and frustration those delays cause. We've offered replacements and refunds, even though it means eating the cost of the order, the postage, and replacements. We've talked with our local postal service staff, trying to see if there's anything else we can possibly do to improve outcomes. We answer the phone again.
At the end of the day, sometimes ten or twelve hours after we started, we clean and disinfect one more time. We leave the building and take our masks off for the first time all day. We go home to our families and our roommates and our pets. We worry about what will happen if one of our colleagues tests positive—if our high-risk employees and family members would survive, if the business could survive shutting down for two weeks if we all had to quarantine. We worry and we hope, like everyone else.
So when customers come into the store or call us up and are angry and frustrated, we get it. We understand that stress levels are unthinkably high right now for everyone. We feel it, too. But our staff are not targets for abuse, no matter how angry and frustrated a customer may be. We have had books thrown and hand sanitizer smeared across our window. We've been accused of wanting to smother children and of harrassing our customers. We've been yelled at, called incompetent and lazy. We've been told that as paying customers, their support entitles them to do as they please.
But here's the thing. Supporting local businesses means more than just opening your wallet. It means treating our staff with kindness, respect, and understanding. It means seeing us as people. We want to do right by you, and keep Brilliant Books a place of wonder and ideas and joy for many years to come. Do we make mistakes? Sure. It doesn't happen often, though, and we're happy to make things right if we can. We're on your side through all this. We need you to be on ours, too.
Dealing with the stress of the pandemic is tough. It's constant, and frustrating, and exhausting, and dealing with it is hard. If you find yourself short-tempered or worried or easily frustrated or just plain sad, here are a few of the books that we, as booksellers, turn to for guidance and relief.