This week, several people sent me this great article on why booksellers matter, even in a world of online buying. It’s a good, short read, and I take it as a great compliment that our Church Street customers think of me that way. It also happens to be true.
Yesterday, three different women confided in me about very specific examples sexism they’d faced in the workplace, just because I’d displayed a copy of Lean In (a new book about women in the workplace by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg). This weekend, a man broke down while I was pulling his espresso shots, telling me he was in financial trouble and didn’t know how to get out of it. Then a woman talked to me about her cancer. Every day, I talk with high school and college students about the things you’d expect them to care about — exams and heartbreaks — and the things you might not realize that they care just as much about, like politics, literature, and the economy.
Come have coffee with me … and buy a book!
I know that a lot of people think my job is just selling books and coffee, but I don’t see it like that — and neither does anyone else who works at Church Street. People come here to get their coffee, but they also come to talk to us, to be treated kindly, to have a laugh or share a story. Sometimes I’m able to listen, and sometimes I’m not (after all, I’m at work and I’m actually pretty busy). But I’m always humbled by the fact that people want to trust me with their stories.
That connection is especially important when it comes to books. I might not always have the time or emotional strength to listen to your struggles, but I can certainly help you find a book about them. I can’t take the place of your best friend or therapist, but I can help you find a novel or a non-fiction book that can provide real comfort and help. The books I’ll lead you to are not the ones you’ll find on Amazon, because they require a person-to-person connection. Believe it or not, you’re more complicated and nuanced than an algorithm, so computer-generated suggestions are not always the things you need or want to be reading.
When it comes to buying eBooks, this connection might be even more important — and it’s certainly more difficult to establish and maintain. The problem of browsing and discovering great new eBooks is the biggest problem of the entire eBook industry, from our little shop all the way to Amazon. Our world is being lived more and more on computers, and that doesn’t have to be bad. But it’s up to us to be sure we spend our money and our time to protect the personal connections we care about.
I’m convinced that it’s very important to invest in face-to-face buying, especially when it comes to books. Because they are made up of stories and ideas, they are an important part of community. They help us understand other people. They help us know that we’re a part of something, and remind us that we’re not alone.
This week, we’re encouraging our customers to set up an eBook account with Church Street that benefits our bookshop with every purchase you make. We’re doing this because eBooks are going to be a big part of the future of books, and we think it’s important for independent, local booksellers to be a part of that future. If you agree, take a couple of minutes to set up a Kobo/Church Street account. It’s a few keystrokes on a computer, but I assure you it makes a difference to a real person: I know, because it makes a difference to me.
Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books.