Sunday, April 02, 2006

"So long, and thanks for all the fish" - Douglas Adams

That's the quote I put on the "store closed" signs. People would pass by the store while we were busy packing up books and we'd hear "I didn't know they sold fish, I thought they were a bookstore." Well, actually, a few years back, we did sell those damn singing fish things, not an easy thing to up-sell with Chaucer. The singing bass were a strategic faux pas that left many of the book buying public with an item for their next eBay auction. Oh, well, it's business and you've got to try anything once. Liberals have been saying that for years, and like the liberals, retail is struggling to pave a new path and is not really accomplishing anything but unemployment. Despite what "they" want you to believe, the economy is not in recovery, it's just adjusting to the "Big Box" mentality; careful what you wish for people, it's coming.

The past few weeks were kind of like the perennial movie favorite "You've got mail" except that it was my own Company that decided to move their "superstore" in on my turf and when you relocate a "superstore" across from across the street, you can assume they already have a staff and won't need you or any but two of your current employees. It sounds tragic and unfair, but it makes good business sense; that is not to say I wasn't without moments of resentment or the bitter commentary that would spew forth when someone would enquire about the situation, but for the most part, I kept my head high and did my very best at keeping the morale high within the store. At best, it was my morale that was tested on a daily basis as the new "superstore" was being built directly across from me and once they took the "Coming Soon" facade down, I saw the for the first time the direction the company was going; high tech, open space for the reading public to sprawl out and read books and magazines. If they're lucky these poaching readers will eventually buy something.

Closing a store that has been open for 21 years (of which I've been there almost 11 years) is no easy task. We were there at 7 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m. daily this past week and every bone in my body wants to go on strike. Every day was loaded with physically hard work topped with a mass of emotions. Fellow store managers and colleagues came to help shut down a beloved store, once a top performer and in following years, once the two big superstores and two fucking Wal Marts opened, the top performance fell way to fleeting moments of greatness. Customers brought boxes of chocolate and Suzy Q's (It was hard to share, heh). They came by to say goodbye, they cried, I cried, and my employees cried. The days usually ended with a couple of us going for drinks, crying and then off to home where I'd pass out until the alarm clock rang at 6 a.m. one more time.

My District Manager had been very supportive, bringing doughnuts and feeding the masses showing loads of compassion when she wasn't crying herself. She ended the week for me with a nice dinner party at her house with gifts and attempts at reminiscing, but we were all emotionally and physically spent, so mostly we stared at each other with open mouths and drool dripping into our Margaritas. Yesterday I felt hungover from everything that went down this past week and it seemed my waking hours were devoted to watching King Kong the long ass movie it is. Oh yeah, the monkey dies and I couldn't cry, the tears were gone. Sorry Kong.

The face of retail is changing so rapidly. It's bigger and better and I can't say I dig the "Big Box" stylings of the new retail; it lacks compassion, customer service or any amount of charm. God willing, I won't have to work in it ever again. I've done 23 years of it and thankfully it was all in the book industry, where I hope to stay, but on the other side of it. I took a great deal of pride in my job, selling the works of others, meeting some terrific people, brilliant and not so brilliant authors and having access to millions of books for my own education of sorts. I truly loved my job and now it's gone.

My future job prospects are good. Fortunately for myself, I've managed to suspend my anti-social behavior long enough to network with fabulous folks within the industry and if things work out, you'll see me blogging about books in the near future (fingers crossed). Gone are the days of long term employment. Eighteen years with one company is almost unheard of these days and in the grand scheme of it all, they were a good company to work for. Sure, I could bitch about the company until I was blue in the face, but that is the nature of the beast, never quite biting the hand that fed you, but nibbling at the insanity that is big business. Ah...the futility of it all.

The little book store that could is closed for business. I've battled every possible retail warfare probability and kept it alive for as long as I could, but in the end, it was ultimately my own company that said the time has come to stop fighting and concede to consolidation; goodbye to "small" and hello to "SUPER". I leave with more insight and more friends then I could ever dream of having, it's been a good run. Nothing lasts forever, hello to the future, I thought you'd come tomorrow, tomorrow being today, which was yesterday's next day, and the time change, yowza, Anyhoo, the future is every second you take a breath. What you do while you're breathing is entirely up to you and right now, I've got to finish up sorting through the boxes of memories from the store and prepare for the next minute, where ever that may take me.