Tonite, after ten years in Cleveland, our store will gather for its last holiday party. To say tonite will be bittersweet is the understatement of the decade.
We were never just a bookstore staff. Over the years we've become relationship counselors, shoulders to lean on, and partners in crime -- not only to each other, but also to our customers. Our favorite moments consisted of those conversations with other book lovers who were looking for a good read, a book for their mother, an "I'm sorry" gift for their partner, or an educational toy for their grandchild. We loved when customers came back, seeking us out for more advice after we'd been so helpful on their last visit. We remember hugging customers who were looking for a book to make sense of their grief, getting our cheeks pinched by little old ladies who were so ecstatic that we knew which book with the red cover they were looking for, and the smiles & little "thank you's" from toddlers who got their own bag with their own book inside. We relished buying someone a cup of coffee while we tackled their holiday book list, turning a Big Box Shopper into an Indie Supporter, and the challenge of finding a rare book through a long internet search. Author events, no matter how big or small, were always full of surprises & challenges and always made for the best stories.
For many of us, we saw our work family more than our real family and those bonds are just as strong as if we shared blood. We have found best friends, future bridesmaids & godparents, sounding boards, character references, and lifelong soulmates in each other. We have laughed, cried, yelled at and with each other. We have conspired with each other, collaborated on projects, and cooked for each other. We loved each other and turned that affection on our store to the tune of a 25% increase in top-line book sales, and a 10% increase in overall top-line store sales in a year when the critics declared death on the book industry. Ebooks, Kindles, and Amazon did not kill our spirit or our bookstore. In fact, they motivated us to do everything we could to control every bottom line factor. And we did. In the end, it was nothing we did or did not do as a staff that caused our closing. In the end, we went down fighting, kicking & screaming, the only way a bookstore should.
Tonite we will gather at to celebrate this year and to say goodbye to Joseph-Beth. Tonite will not, however, be a goodbye to each other. We cannot imagine dismantling this family of booksellers and friends and we are determined to not let losing our bookstore translate into losing each other. Bowling parties, happy hours, and potluck dinners will be a part of our future. We've made plans to visit each other at our new places of business and we started a Facebook group to stay in touch.
Tonite, we will take comfort in the death of our bookstore by celebrating the afterlife of our friendships.
When we booked our event with former President Jimmy Carter, we began a half-joking ritual of knocking on wood whenever we mentioned our preparations. As the weeks progressed, we learned that in spite of his age, President Carter was witty, inquisitive, and still very much involved in world politics. We heard stories of the 1200 people who turned out for his event several years ago, of how gracious the President and Mrs. Carter were towards our staff -- our Master Bookseller loved to talk of how Mrs. Carter found out during the middle of the signing that the government had approved their mission to Palestine. We began promotion weeks in advance, worked diligently with the publisher to meet all of the President's needs, and prepped our staff and customers for the intensity of the event.
On September 28, our staff arrived hours before opening to make final changes proposed by the Secret Service. Customers braved downpours to be the first in line, and by the time 11am rolled around, two hours before his scheduled arrival, close to 500 people stood in line. Parents had excused their children from school, many had traveled from more than three hours away, and customers from as far as Texas had called to purchase a signed copy.
At 11:30, we got the call that the President's plane had arrived and the car was en route to the bookstore. Being only 30 minutes from the airport, we made numerous last minute prep checks, staged our booksellers and the Secret Service moved through the store making extra security checks.
At 12:15, we glanced towards the curtained off area, thinking any minute we would see his shadow heading towards the staging room. We joked that the motorcade was probably stuck on I-480 due to rubberneckers needing to get a look at the flat tire on the side of the road. Everyone stayed put; we were nervous with excitement by this point, knowing our months of preparation was about to pay off.
At 12:30, our Events Coordinator approached us with her jaw hanging open. She'd received a text message that said the President had been rushed to the hospital. We all grabbed our cell phones and sure enough, the news was all over Twitter, Facebook, and we all had texts and voicemails. Within seconds of finding out ourselves, the crowd began to mumble & the questions began to fly.
The Secret Service insisted it was a go for the event; we were told by the head of the team to make an announcement that the event was delayed, but not cancelled. A few event-go'ers gave up early, making returns, leaving shrugging their shoulders. Others asked us to hold their spots in line while they used the restroom, or got a cup of coffee. Many began to pray. Most were on their cell phones and laptops, keeping us all up-to-date. The news crews left; only two local papers stuck around. The Secret Service insisted he was coming, and we believed them. Our staff went into backup mode -- we made a Delay Strategy, then a Cancellation Strategy, just in case. We were reassigned. We were ready again.
Then the phones began to ring. The local and national networks called first. Then we began fielding calls from the Associated Press, The New York Times, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and CSPAN, NPR, and all of the local AM news stations, not to mention our family and friends, our regular customers, and the curious gossipers. The cacophony of ringing phones, the nervous & frustrated buzz of the customers, and the many rumors we were faced with rattled us. About 45 minutes after the delay, a bookseller handed me the phone saying the President's publisher needed to speak with a manager. I spoke with a rep at FSG who gave us official confirmation of the cancellation. About ten minutes later, the Secret Service told us to make an announcement and agents left, assumedly reassigned to Metro Hospital.
We prepared for an onslaught of returns but only 50 people asked for it. I manned the doors, thanking everyone for coming, telling them to check our website during the week for a reschedule date. The local news crews who had abandoned us during the delay were back outside our doors, stopping customers for interviews. A few were angry, many disappointed, two were openly crying, and only one thanked me for our gracious staff. Within twenty minutes, the store was empty, we turned the Glee soundtrack back on, and we all tried to breathe. The staff dispersed, back to our regular assignments. The management staff began to return phone calls and emails from concerned members of the publishing industry. Our general manager spoke to half a dozen reporters, giving the rest of us the opportunity to plan a rescheduling strategy.
The early morning crew convened upstairs to eat the lunch our Bistro had prepared for the President. For close to an hour, we talked about what worked, adjustments to make in the coming weeks, and we laughed with relief that even though it didn't go as planned, we had succeeded in how we handled it. At one point, the room quieted as we all sent silent wishes for the President's recovery. We headed home, exhausted from the long day, all of us eager to do it all over again in a few weeks.
We spent the evening watching the news, reading websites, and texting each other the old mantra "All publicity is good publicity." We sent each other links to news stories on international sites where the only English we understood was "Joseph-Beth Booksellers." At 9am on Wednesday, the phone calls began about rescheduling dates, news crews called for final details and for information on how to be included in the media crew for the makeup date. Everyday customers saw our banners & our rebuilt display at the front of the store and stopped us to ask, "The President was coming here when he fell ill?" and the staff liked reliving the hectic day. In the end, we went back to doing what we did so well yesterday -- we waited.
Business leaders will tell you that the true test of a team is how well they handle the unexpected. We never expected to host an event with a former president. We never expected a last-second cancellation. We never expected the support from the publishing industry and from our customers as we work out Plan B. We never expected that our event with President Carter would make us a stronger bookstore - that it was just the thing we needed to recharge, refocus, and remember why we serve the Cleveland area.
I can only imagine how he'll change us -- as a store, as a team, and as a community -- we he arrives. Get well soon, Mr. President. We can't wait to meet you.
It took me almost two hours to figure out how to fix my comments, although I'm still not sure why my date won't show up. (I'm going to need to bribe my brother to take a look at my html.) Blogs are tagged, I have a sticky note list of ones to use in the future, a review policy and copyright are up, I have a review template and a cheat sheet, and I made an RSS feed (although I might find a better button at some point). I also became a member of the Book Blogs Ning which has already paid off; I've also had a few people from Twitter and my personal Facebook account say thanks for updating them with my link.
I have yet to sit down with my coworker to discuss the social media card, mainly because we haven't worked together yet and secondly because I keep changing my mind. I also haven't signed on for Goodreads yet. Oddly enough, I got an email today from Ellen Wittlinger (whom I worship) asking me to join up with her. I will definitely start the account, mostly to motivate myself to work through my TBR pile a little faster. There are still a few pieces of my layout to work on (font size, text bars, etc) but, again, I need a brotherly expert. (It also doesn't help that most of it was written in Spanish!) My biggest challenge left is to start following fellow book bloggers - the only way to get read is to read, so I need to start weeding through the shared RSS feeder and some of the bloggers on the Ning.
All in all, Bloggiesta helped me make my blog even better. I'm really looking forward to participating next year after I've got a few more posts under my belt.
Once a year, the weather in Cleveland becomes too dicey to chance my 25-miles-one-way drive to work. Today is that day and with Bloggiesta, the timing could not have been more perfect. Bloggiesta is in its second year and is a time for bloggers to get all spruced up for the new year. For new bloggers like myself, it's the perfect time to tweak the things my betas and first readers have noticed/suggested for my blog. Below is a to-do list -- I'll report back on Monday, but you'll see a few cosmetic changes if you hang out with me this weekend!
Bloggiesta To-Do List
*Troubleshoot comments link (done, but now dates disappeared)
*Outline social media business card w/elevator pitch for blog
*Update Twitter & personal FB with blog links (done)
*Create review policy (done)
*Goodreads account "what I'm reading" widgets
*Create favicon/gravatar (done - not what I expected)
*Become a member of Book Blogs ning group
*Create labels list (done)
*Do as many mini-challenges as possible
*Go through the What Book Is That tips post (done)
That's from the original list - I'll edit to add more as the weekend continues.
The strengths of this blog will be its consistency. I love my CSI-type theme and I'm excited to use it and write often. My reviews will be honest and timely. I plan on staying dedicated to this blog and its subject matter. I plan to write about my store, my co-workers, the books we sell, and why supporting local business is so vital to a community. My challenges lie in making sure the daily bookstore responsibilities don't overwhelm me and my dedication to keeping this updated. The other major challenge is getting this blog to stand out against all the other book blogs that already exisit - I think I need to find a stronger nitche, or a better way to market myself in order to make a name for myself.
I plan to write twice a week on Thursdays and Saturdays. I will advertise on Twitter, via email, and on my personal Facebook. I am also going to ask a coworker to help design a social networking business card that I can use for my bookstore connections. I would like to get more involved with my local NaNoWriMo group that will continue to meet during the year. I would also like to begin networking with other book bloggers on a more regular basis. I'm also planning to stay current with my 2010 Genre Challenge...I just need to finish the fiction I'm reading now so I can start!
Our Sunday New York Times reader still showed up. The lady in the purple who shops our bestsellers with a basket in hand still came in brandishing her Gives Back card. Teenagers with giftcards burning holes in their pockets showed up to buy Vera Bradley bags before heading back to school this week. The professor from CSU who holes up in our rocking chairs stayed for her three hours on Sunday. Our fresh-from-the-gym omelet-eater said good morning to the entire staff, wolfed down his food at the Bistro, and headed back into the breach. And we've had our share of the browsers, the new faces, and the recurring characters coming in asking for a good read for these cold days.
Even though we've done in a day what we did in an hour just a week ago, we still had a great day because we still mattered to these people. To these shoppers, we're worth the risk. And to the customers who will wait for the plows and maybe a peek of sunshine, we promise to be ready and as grateful as we are to the ones who were crazy enough to come visit during the snowstorm.