by Elżbieta Piepiórka
Are the rumours true or are things not as they appear? Find out by following me down the rabbit hole, into the second-hand bookshop wonderland. Bibliophiles will agree that second-hand bookshops and commercial chains never provide us with the same type of experiences or evoke the same emotions. Perhaps half of the appeal is the mystery… so you should stop reading now.
Chain bookshops are the perfection of unbesmirched paper, the buzz of a coffee shop, and the excitement of new titles. Second-hand bookshops are the hunt for an ancient manuscript calling out to you from under a layer of dust, the comforting mismatch of the shelves, and the endearing inscriptions from 1920’s lovers. It’s also the stress of manually writing down every sale I make and updating it on an Excel Spreadsheet, as technology fails to penetrate this fortress of færie dust. Sometimes talking to customers feels like talking to the Mock Turtle. So, for the first stop in our three-part series, let’s parse romance from reality, through the lens of customers’ favourite questions.
Have I read every book in the shop? This question stems from the same confusion that compels customers to tell me to never think about leaving this incredible job. As much as working at The Minster Gate Bookshop has been extraordinarily rewarding, it is still a job. Come rain or shine I have to get up in the morning and conjure up eight hours of productivity. There’s the basic operating of the till, the necessary evil of hoovering, re-shelving, re-straightening, and unpacking. There’s updating two databases, checking for online orders, covering dust jackets, wrapping prints – you get the idea. It’s a job, a responsibility. Nobody expects supermarket clerks or retail workers to be eating the food or wearing the clothes – so why do people always expect I’m just there to read in my “spare time”?
Where do the books come from? New books at bargain prices are publisher’s remainders. Our second-hand and antiquarian books come from auctions, people decluttering when moving or after a relative has passed, academics, or even tourists who think there is a better market for their second-hand books here.
How do we determine the books’ value? My favourite phenomenon is a customer picking up an invaluable antiquarian book and asking “why is this so expensive? It’s so old”. Yes, well, that is the point. You don’t go into a museum and complain that things are old or that the security guards get anxious when you keep dropping the artefacts on the floor…. Also, please don’t bother checking Amazon right before our eyes. Our bookshop has no signal anyway and all our prices are competitive and fair. We tirelessly check multiple platforms and cross-compare the book’s condition, rarity, and popularity.
Do I meet interesting people? Of course I do! I have met people whose words have changed me forever, and I’ve met people who are the walking stereotypes behind all customer service jokes.