Trying to Keep the Customers Satisfied
By Terry Z. Lucas
When you live in the Hamptons, Memorial Day Weekend marks the start of an annual three month period when everything in your life gets flipped on its side. You can no longer go to the grocery store during normal hours for fear of being run over by a shopping cart filled with tofu, kale, tortilla chips and beer. The post office will always have a line. People will walk down the center of the road, texting, and glare at you for being in a car. You must make sure to plan extra time to get anywhere because of additional traffic and you have to be prepared to swerve to avoid cars that stop at any and all farm stands.
When you own a business in the Hamptons, Memorial Day Weekend marks the beginning of a dizzy mini-marathon. For thirteen years, I owned a small bookstore in Westhampton Beach. Summer was the time when I made most of my money for the year. I opened early and stayed late. I called on all of my reserves of patience as I answered questions about babysitters, beaches and the best place to eat. I smiled and smiled and smiled.
A bookstore needs customers. My bookstore had its regulars, weekly visitors who came by for a chat and a book. The lawyers who usually sat on opposing sides of the courtroom had surprisingly similar tastes in reading material. The wealthy, southern dowager with her cinnamon bun hairdo always wanted the latest conservative, political books. The cheerful looking Mom in the flowered dress just hoped to find something to help her escape the monotony. These customers became part of the bookstore family and, very often, friends.
Then there were the difficult “just try to make me happy” customers. They came in determined to dislike the store, its inventory and its employees. One woman returned to the store a few minutes after walking out without making a purchase, screaming at me because my description of a book kept her at the store too long and the bank closed while we were talking. One man hated my choice of crossword puzzle books so much that I finally “fired” him, telling him that maybe he could find another source for puzzles that would better meet his needs. And once on a Saturday night at about 11pm, I was berated by a woman in a bathing suit, a crocheted cover-up and gold encrusted sandals because I would not allow her to sleep in the cozy chair all night.
A few customers only came in once. We never again saw the grandmother who huffed out the door when our feisty, young intern, Danielle, suggested War and Peace for her brilliant two year old grandson who was “much too sophisticated” for Dr. Seuss. The woman in the long, floaty, hippie dress who needed to borrow the phone to call her psychic to consult on which book had the better energy, may still be wandering aimlessly around the village. Some people were just passing through.
Danielle was a child of the city. Raised by artistic parents in the heart of Chelsea, she spent her youth smoking cigarettes and buying student rush tickets to see Rent. She was dubbed “Little Danielle” to differentiate her from an older employee also named Danielle. That Danielle, an aspiring gym teacher, only lasted a few weeks. She seemed baffled by the bookstore, its customers and the other employees. She found a job at the water park in Riverhead. Little Danielle stepped in as a 14-year-old intern to fill the space. She was the perfect fit: sarcastic, smart, tough and well-read…..she was meant to be part of our crew.
“It’s my GROIN.” I returned from dinner on a busy July night to hear these words echoing from the area where the health books were shelved. The store was full of customers and Little Danielle rushed up to me with a look of panic on her face and said in a low voice, “Thank God you’re here. You have to help me with this guy.”
“Sweetie, I told you that it is not my back. It’s my groin,” the man insisted in a voice that resonated throughout the whole store. Noting the looks of amusement and perplexity on the faces of the other customers, I hurried to the back of the store. “Sir, how can I help you?”