I Work at a Bookstore

Yes, I am now a retail worker.

It’s been less than a week and I have already done three shifts that were eight or nine hours long. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m sure most of you have heard horror stories of working retail: entitled and angry customers, creepy and dictatorial supervisors, feces-covered bathroom stalls.

Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with any of that yet. I’ve had only one pissed off customer, but she didn’t make much of a fuss and simply left for a different store. My managers are respectful and trust their workers to do their jobs, while visibly working hard themselves. And so far, the walls of the bathrooms have been free of excrement, although we did find one unflushed turd at closing.

So what’s it like working at a bookstore? Well…

  1. It ain’t all that literary. I mean, I suppose I didn’t expect to be sitting around reading books all day, but…maybe a little bit of it? Which is dumb on my part, I guess. Instead, I’m constantly on the move, with one thing or another to do. The bookstore keeps a small staff and cross-trains everyone so that we can all cover each other in different areas of the store. It allows the employees to work more hours in case we need the money, which is great, if a bit tiring.
  2. It’s kind of a mess. I thought that, being a bookstore, things would be well-organized. Just put it all in alphabetical order, right? Well, it’s not so simple. There are different sections that don’t necessarily begin and end where they’re labeled because the number of books is always in flux. Also, there are subcategories in each genre that aren’t labeled so you just have to kind of remember where it is. For example, there’s a Star Wars section within the Sci-Fi shelves, even though various Star Wars novels were written by different authors. Star Wars is easy because it’s popular and huge, but when a series is more obscure, it can get confusing. I’m getting the hang of it and I now mostly know where to look for a certain book, but it was rough in the beginning. I still haven’t even gone near the manga section yet because apparently it works on a completely different system.
    Also, there are books that are on sale or on display that I imagine will be a headache to change. There are even some books that are too big to fit into the shelf.
    Not to mention all the customers who like to leave books on politics in the cooking section or erotic novels in the teen fiction section. Annoying to say the least.
  3. There are so many books. Of course, I already knew that. But I don’t think I truly realized the sheer number and variety that exists. Especially romance novels. Christ, there are a lot of romance novels. And a lot of books, regardless of genre, just look so bad. But they still managed to get published. It really makes me wonder if my writing is just as bad and I’m being delusional…surely not. Right? Right?
    Oh and have you ever wondered how they choose which books to face outwards on the shelves? I had always thought that the books chosen to be displayed like that were supposedly high quality or, at least, the most popular. Nope. Completely arbitrary. It’s just to fill up space.
    Although, I have to admit, sometimes I would rearrange the shelves so that I could change which book would be featured. C’mon, can you blame me? Especially when you can only see the spine of Their Eyes Were Watching God, but the cover of Cowboy Fantasies is prominently displayed? It had to be done.
  4. The music never changes. On my second day, I noticed that I was hearing a lot of the same songs. I didn’t mind because I liked most of them. Then on the third day, I heard the exact same songs in pretty much the same order as the two previous days. That’s when it clicked. I’m going to be stuck listening to these songs over and over and over again. I asked a coworker if the store music ever changes. Rumor goes that the songs are chosen by corporate and we cannot change it. Not even our managers can change it. It stays until Christmas season and then it’s nonstop Christmas music. If I’m still there by Christmas, I might pop my own eardrums. And hate myself.
  5. Nobody cares what you buy. Really. I’ve been embarrassed by my purchases before. The first few times I bought condoms, I was afraid that someone would see me and I was terrified of giving them to the cashier to ring up. Which is stupid because it meant I was finally getting laid and that’s an accomplishment to be proud of.
    I’ve also once bought a somewhat racier novel before because, well, I was a horny teenager and it had an interesting premise. Yeah, very interesting. (Turns out, it was shit.) I stuck it between two other non-related books and placed them facedown on the counter when I went up to pay for them. I paid in cash too. Untraceable.
    Both times, I was sure that the cashier would judge me. And I’m sure some sanctimonious jerks would and do. But most of the time, the cashiers are tired, underpaid workers who absolutely do not care at all. I had a five minute long conversation with a middle-aged woman who was buying maybe six erotic novels. I don’t remember her face or even what the conversation was about. Nor do I care.
    So unless you’re violent or smell strongly of urine, nobody cares that you were in the store, much less whatever it is you bought.

Those are my thoughts on working on a bookstore so far. I’ve only been working there for a week, so I don’t have many stories to tell. Although, when I told the managers at my interview that I used to work the late night shift at the dining hall and dealt with a bunch of drunk idiots, they laughed and said that I would do great here then. I was hired the next day. So something tells me that I’ll have a story for everyone sooner or later. I imagine it would be fun to write about, but it still fills me with some dread. But hey, how bad could it be?



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