Holiday Helpers: ABA Staffers Become Weekend Booksellers

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Continuing a holiday tradition, ABA senior staff members were encouraged by CEO Oren Teicher and COO Len Vlahos to spend time working at member stores during the crucial rundown to the New Year. With the intent of helping member stores in any way they could, and to learn more about the challenges facing store owners and staff, over the last several weeks ABA staffers drove to stores within a few hours of the association's Tarrytown, New York, offices or combined their stints as bookstore helpers with previously planned business trips and vacations in locales across the country.

Jill Perstein, wrapper extraordinaire.

Flying Pig owners Josie Leavitt, wearing the Santa hat, and Elizabeth Bluemle.

Jill Perlstein, ABA's director of member services, traveled with her family to Shelburne,Vermont, in the middle of December to work for two days at The Flying Pig Bookstore, alongside store owners Josie Leavitt and Elizabeth Bluemle.

As is ABA custom, Perlstein offered to do whatever needed to be done (with the exception of handling money) and was promptly put to work. She dusted, straightened out the picture and activity book areas, organized stacks of special orders, and wrapped... a lot. Many were books purchased by customers for children in need, as part of Flying Pig's Book Angel program.

"Elizabeth and Josie are handselling pros," said Perlstein. "They, and their staff, give each customer special attention. For the Book Angel program, they often knew the child for whom a particular book was donated. It was very satisfying to have even such a small part in their efforts." And, she added lightheartedly, "My favorite gifts were the ones where I could use bendy pencils as decorations!"

In addition to working on the sales floor, Perlstein, who oversees the ABA Gift Card Program, was able to give Leavitt and Bluemle some tips about using the Givex portal to better manage gift cards. "This was invaluable and will make my holidays go a lot more smoothly," wrote Leavitt on Shelftalker, A Children's Bookseller's Blog.

Len Vlahos with broom in hand at Mrs. Nelson's.

While the photo to the right was staged, courtesy of SCIBA's Guinevere Platt, ABA COO Len Vlahos did actually sweep each day at Mrs. Nelson's Toy & Book Shop in La Verne, California. Over the course of the first weekend in December, he also helped shelve, neaten inventory, and handle customer service inquiries.

Vlahos who has a special interest in all things technical (he's a former director of ABA IndieCommerce), also worked on Mrs. Nelson's "Merchandising Opportunity Report," an Above the Treeline report that shows which books Mrs. Nelson's has in quantity that haven't been selling, but that are selling well in other stores.

"The store was jumping my first morning there, with customers buying large quantities of books," said Vlahos. "The staff is incredibly knowledgeable, and Mrs. Nelson's is both large and beautifully merchandised. Andrea Vuleta, the manager, is an extraordinarily talented children's bookseller, and was a very gracious host."

Meg Smith in her Boulder Bookstore apron.

Boulder Bookstore holiday window.

Business was brisk at Boulder Book Store last week, when ABA Chief Marketing Officer Meg Smith donned a red apron and nametag and took to the floor for a few days. "Store GM and buyer Arsen Kashkashian and floor manager Scott Foley were thoughtful hosts and teachers," said Smith. "I shelved books (my favorite section was 'Recently Acquired Used Books'); answered questions (and found out that bookselling is much like detective work, with store staff trying to decipher titles customers want from very few clues); met with the in-store marketing team (and was pleased to see the use of the IndieBound wish lists and other DIY designs in various store pieces); and picked up a bit of rudimentary Computac-speak ('Find' is an invaluable short-cut)." Her proudest moments were "pointing out the Bananagrams faster than a 'real' bookseller, and putting a copy of a just-shelved I Hope They Serve Beers in Hell by Max Tucker (Citadel) in the hands of a young woman who wondered if we had a copy in stock."

Boulder Bookstore owner David Bolduc, a pioneer in the Shop Local movement introduced Smith to many of the shops and shopkeepers on Pearl Street during her stay. And, while there was sad news that an indie music store was closing in this "dream of an indie retail town," said Smith, "the movement seems alive and well in Boulder Books -- home to 90 book groups, three floors of beautifully arranged and thoughtfully chosen titles, a smart and friendly staff, and perhaps the only bookseller in America who knows the right answer to the question 'Do you have a book with "The" in the title?' (Arsen Kashkashian)."

Northshire's Chris Morrow (l.) and Erik Barnum (r.) with Dan Cullen.

Featured titles greet customers entering Northshire Bookstore from the adjacent Spiral Press Cafe.

Arriving in Manchester Center, Vermont, last Friday, Dan Cullen, ABA's senior director of editorial content, got right to work at the Northshire Bookstore, under the direction of Chris Morrow and Erik Barnum. "I began by helping with shelving, which is probably the best way to learn the layout of the store and start to get a sense of the inventory in the sections," said Cullen. "Northshire makes sure that all titles have been shelved before the end of work day on Friday, which, I saw, made an amazing difference on Saturday morning, when the store opened for what was to be a very busy day."

In addition to shelving, Cullen wrapped a lot of books, including a number of gifts that were part of Northshire's Book Angel program, straightened sections throughout the day, and even did a little handselling. "Northshire has an amazing team of booksellers, and all of them were incredibly patient and generous with their time, helping me contribute and feel part of an outstanding bookstore," said Cullen.

Bookstall staff members with ABA CEO Oren Teicher and store owner Roberta Rubin (second from left).

ABA CEO Oren Teicher was in Winnetka, Illinois, this past weekend to work with owner Roberta Rubin and the staff of The Book Stall At Chestnut Court. Teicher reported that the store was busy, and "for once it seems that the weather in the Midwest was more retail friendly than it was back East.

"Three days of talking about books with the store's staff and customers was both fun and invigorating," said Teicher, adding "I'm always blown away by the book knowledge of so many booksellers." Of special note, he said, were the relationships that Book Stall staff members have developed over the years with the store's customers. "At least one person on staff knows each customer."

Teicher was put to work on the sales floor, where he handsold several titles, including City of Thieves, Wolf Hall, and The Help. He also made more than 75 phone calls to inform customers that their special orders had arrived.

"The trust between customers and the staff at the Book Stall is amazing," said Teicher, noting that Rubin's selection of Cutting for Stone as her favorite pick of 2009 resulted in the bookstore having already sold 546 copies thus far, and the title keeps selling out. --Rosemary Hawkins