Snubbed at the Indie Bookstore
April 22, 2011
My preteen son and I ventured into New York during spring break to ride the Staten Island Ferry and visit a couple of favorite bookstores. He loves Kinokuniya, the big, ultra-busy Japanese store across Sixth Avenue from Bryant Park. He chose a cool pen and some art supplies from the many cool pens and art supplies on the lowest level, and later used the pen to impress a seven-year-old girl on the train ride home. "You write cursive!" she exclaimed.
I wanted to visit a small shop I knew of only through social media; the store and I may even have exchanged tweets. Along with many others, I have promoted buying books at independent bookstores, and I'd been curious about this one since it opened. It's a well-lit, appealing spot with what looks like carefully selected inventory.
We were the only customers at the time of our visit. A bookseller behind the counter glanced up from the computer as we entered and we exchanged hellos.
"I follow y'all on Twitter," I said excitedly.
"Oh," said the bookseller.
After a few seconds, I understood that our conversation was over.
Feeling vaguely embarrassed, I began to look around.
Someone else was working on a computer in the back of the place. I wondered if the two store folks, separated by 300 feet or so, were emailing each other instead of talking back and forth. Maybe I should have logged into Twitter on my phone to speak to them.
ST: U are friendly on Twitter! Why not here?
Employee#1: I'm not the Twitter person.
Employee#2: Comeoutoftherain,makeyourselfathome,iloveyou. Please retweet.
I bought several books, but left feeling disappointed—and duped. Social media got me there, but I'm not rushing back any time soon.
Oh, ouch. That's so not cool.
I hope you TWITTER about the experience and they read it.
Posted by: tanita | April 22, 2011 at 04:29 PM
That's really too bad. I feel that way on occasion when I meet people IRL whom I've only spoken to on Twitter or blogs--and when that happens, it's always a little disappointing. Sorry to hear about that--and with an indie bookstore, no less!
On the other hand, I love Kinokuniya--fun! I've been to the ones in San Francisco and Seattle.
Posted by: Sarah Stevenson (aquafortis) | April 22, 2011 at 06:10 PM
...and by "when that happens," I don't mean the meeting itself was disappointing! I mean it's disappointing when you meet the person and it's like what you've described here. :) Sorry to be unclear.
Posted by: Sarah Stevenson (aquafortis) | April 22, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Hey, Tanita and Sarah. It's certainly not the first time that I've had a relationship that's all in my head! I was definitely disappointed.
Posted by: Susan T. | April 22, 2011 at 08:38 PM
This exact same thing happened to me recently. Also in NY. I wonder if it was the same store. How sad!
Posted by: Coletraine | April 22, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Aw. I bet I know the bookstore and, if so, that's actually a mildly atypical response from them. Must've been a dud employee. It happens. Never fun, though.
Posted by: Fuse #8 | April 22, 2011 at 09:30 PM
Ouch. Maybe you were just talking to a surly employee?
Posted by: Michelle | April 23, 2011 at 09:37 AM
Coletrain, Fuse, and Michelle,
I should be clear that this was not one of the children's bookstores! We did stop by Books of Wonder, which was packed, and had a cupcake in the cafe. At Bookstore X, I didn't sense surliness so much as complete lack of interest, but I could be wrong. The other person didn't speak or make eye contact either.
The other stores were bustling.
It was my expectation that led to the disappointment.
When we went to Staten Island, we had to scrounge around for a place to eat lunch outside of the ferry terminal. The choices close by were not that appealing, but we finally found a pizza place. The pizza was only fair, the owner wouldn't let us use the bathroom, and the experience was less than optimal. I left thinking that Staten Island could take a lot more advantage of the ferry thing, which had shuttled over many tourists along with the commuters. I thought similarly about the appealing bookstore and social media.
Posted by: Susan T. | April 23, 2011 at 12:11 PM
Very sad. And how polite of you not to mention the name of the bookstore. SOMEone still has good manners...
Posted by: Mary Lee | April 24, 2011 at 08:57 AM
Mary Lee, thanks! The day at the bookstore was a reminder to me; I do some social media stuff for a nonprofit, and I wouldn't want this to happen there!
Posted by: Susan (Chicken Spaghetti) | April 24, 2011 at 09:29 AM
You absolutely can't blame a store employee for this. Most of the people at the store I visit don't even know what Twitter is.
Posted by: Pam | April 24, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Gosh, I wish you had an easy share gadget on this blog, your post needs easy tweeting. Will copy and paste though. So sorry you had a bad experience. Made me think of how people (we) no longer want to talk on the phone without having been prompted by txt. Perhaps you need to tweet: I'm in your hood, will be there in 3 min. please Welcome!
Posted by: Judith van Praag | April 24, 2011 at 08:45 PM
Do you still follow them on twitter?
Posted by: Linda Nelson | April 24, 2011 at 08:49 PM
I follow a local grocer who seems like a bit of a rock star in this area. We exchange many friendly tweets, and I mentioned I would drop by when he was at our town's location (he has 4 stores). I asked the cashier to page him, and he recognized me right away. We had a nice friendly conversation, and now he's considering hiring my son for the summer.
I'm sorry your experience was less than you expected. Maybe the Twitter person was off that day.
Posted by: Sandra Cormier | April 24, 2011 at 08:59 PM
I think it was a poor reaction on the part of the clerk and possibly just an interpersonal experience and not a refection of the store as a whole. Try giving it another try sometime to test the theory.
Posted by: Rinn | April 24, 2011 at 09:00 PM
If you head back to Staten Island, go by the museum there (http://www.statenislandmuseum.org/), it's quite good. It's true the food offerings right off the ferry terminal as less than optimal.
Posted by: martin | April 24, 2011 at 09:13 PM
Someone has clearly forgotten the "social" part of social media.
Posted by: Susan Bearman | April 24, 2011 at 09:55 PM
I have had this experience a couple of times myself. Once with a tourist shop in Sonoma County. ("I follow you on Twitter!" No recognition.) And once w/a indie bookshop back East I'd expected to be really friendly based on my Twitter experience of them that was totally unmatched in trying to do business with them (which I am now extricating myself from). Yes, easy to get the wrong impression. Disappointing. :(
Posted by: Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com | April 24, 2011 at 10:23 PM
Interesting stories, all!
Great idea about adding a "tweet this!" link to my posts. I did! (Why didn't I think of that eons ago?) And another good idea about trying the Staten Island Museum. We'll spend more time there when we return.
The follow-through with social media is important. So is getting everyone (who works/volunteers at the organization, store, etc.) onboard with what you're doing. That's something I'm learning, too.
Posted by: Susan T. | April 24, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Announcing you follow a business, even a lovely small local business, on Twitter is about as interesting to the clerk as saying you've seen their Yellow Pages ad 30 years ago. That warm and cozy feeling you got with the tweeting back and forth was the result of good PR, not actual friendship.
Maybe I'm old and cynical, but when I follow a business, it's because I'm hoping for deals and sales and I expect businesses which follow me are doing so in hopes of me making use of deals and sales. No matter how amusing and friendly their twitter rep is, I'm not expecting the sales associates to be extra happy to see me because of twitter.
That said, both employees sounded unwelcoming and unhelpful in the general way, not just especially so toward a twitter customer.
Posted by: KLM | April 25, 2011 at 12:46 AM
It was probably your accent. He assumed you couldn't read.
Posted by: Cindy | April 25, 2011 at 07:35 AM
KLM, yes, exactly: good PR, not a "relationship," at all. I do get your Yellow Pages analogy, which made me laugh.
Cindy, nah, I don't think that was it. When I lived & worked in the city, people usually commented positively on my accent. I once struck up a conversation in the subway with a woman wearing a family reunion t-shirt from a tiny town near Meridian. We knew some people in common!
Posted by: Susan T. | April 25, 2011 at 08:08 AM
Oh, that's a little sad but I wish you better luck next time.
I agree, Kinokuniya is pretty wonderful - also their stores in Sydney, Australia Singapapore & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia provide a memorable service in the nicest way. You won't be disappointed if on travelling those international routes, you popped in for a browse.
Posted by: Susan A | April 25, 2011 at 09:22 AM
I understand, as a former retail worker, you can't always be "on." And if the guy wasn't the Twitter-er, I can understand he may not have the same zest for customer service that the owner/manager might. However, in retail employee, when you are on the clock, it is your job to be courteous and (gasp!) friendly. A statement beyond a one syllable answer at the very least.
Posted by: Stephanie | April 25, 2011 at 12:19 PM
Susan A., Kinokuniya is so much fun; how great it would be to visit the places you've memtioned, too!
Stephanie, ha. The experience was definitely lacking in zest.
Posted by: Susan T. | April 26, 2011 at 08:59 AM
Happened to me at a Bay Area indie bookstore. They, too, have a super welcoming and friendly internet presence but were stand-offish and quite unhelpful at the actual store. I went out of my way to purchase a new release in hardcover from them in spite of the deep discounts both Borders and B&N were offering, and the girl at the counter barely managed to look up from what she was reading to help me locate the book. The strangest thing was that this was a huge release (Robert Crais's The Sentry) and this bookstore was sponsoring an author talk and signing at the local library a week or so later. The lack of knowledge, interest and customer service were surprising. I'll save myself time and money in the future, thank you, and order from Amazon or walk over to B&N.
I suspect the social media marketing is handled by an outside entity and is not necessarily a true reflection of the actual people behind the brick-and-mortar store.
Posted by: Sharon | April 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM
Sharon, an outside entity handling Twitter and Facebook could be the case at the NYC store, too. I hadn't thought of that. Good point.
Posted by: Susan T. | April 26, 2011 at 11:31 AM
First, bookstore employees are human beings who may or may not have had a bad day, felt ill at the moment or, who knows, be dying of cancer! To make broad judgments based on one interaction is not wise. Secondly, the employee you spoke to clearly had nothing to do with the store's Twitter account. No store would let everyone in the store contribute regularly to its Twitter account anymore than they allow everyone to submit a newspaper ad on behalf of the store. Thirdly,
bookstore employees are often paid minimum wage due to the current fiscal realities of the book business. Given this fact, it is not always possible to recruit the best and the brightest to fill every time slot.
All this said, I am sorry you had what you perceived to be a bad experience, but I think it is extremely premature and immature to judge this store based on one experience.
Posted by: Dan | May 03, 2011 at 09:33 AM
It doesn't hurt to be friendly. That's all.
Posted by: Susan T. | May 03, 2011 at 01:06 PM
The fact that she mentioned Twitter has no relevance to the rudeness of the worker. I don't care what kind of day you are having--a customer walks in and you can say hello and welcome them into the store. It's polite and it's good business. All the worker had to say was, "Great, thank you for coming to visit us today." Most customers judge businesses by how we are treated when we're speaking with their representatives. It's not immature or premature--it's normal.
Posted by: Jill | May 07, 2011 at 03:16 PM
Here, here, Jill. I agree.
Posted by: Susan T. | May 08, 2011 at 02:22 PM
That worker may have been suffering from some jealousy... The indie Bookstore Twitterers are the rock stars of their world. If he's not the twitter guy, it's like telling a roadie that you really love the lead singer of the band for whom he shleps amps.
Or he was just having a bad day / is a rude guy / is better off finding a new job / didn't get trained properly / etc. Either way, good message to indies, who always need to be "on" and I recommend that you give them another chance!
Posted by: Noelle | May 09, 2011 at 10:32 AM
That's a good & funny analogy. I hadn't really thought about tweeting hierarchy...
Posted by: Susan T. | May 09, 2011 at 11:14 AM
If it's any consolation, I do that all the time!
I can't tell you how many times I'll meet someone that I'm "friends" with on the internet and receive a rather underwhelming response.
Of course, there are those times I run into folks who seem to know me, and I can't remember tweeting/facebooking/blogging with them for the life of me, so it cuts both ways, I suppose!
Posted by: Madigan | July 03, 2011 at 06:00 AM