I don’t like telling people where to shop. In fact, when I took over ownership at The Bookshelf, I decided I would employ what I’ve termed the Miracle on 34th Street model of customer service; if you can’t get it with us, we’ll tell you where else you can find it.
To the customer looking for clipboards? We’ll point you to Ponders. To someone asking for a new Bible? Try Rayanne’s. Monogrammed coasters? Loli’s.
If we don’t have it, we’ll send you to another locally-owned store that might. I like this method. It works for us, and it’s easy, because most places we recommend? We shop there ourselves.
But it’s admittedly harder when customers come in asking for cheap books. More specifically, it’s tough when a customer takes a picture of a book we sell, and I know (because I can hear her conversation) she’ll head home to look up how much it costs on Amazon. It’s hard when someone asks us if we’ll order from Amazon for them, so they won’t have to use their credit card online. (This has actually happened… several times.)
Amazon sells cheap books. We all know this. But did you know how they treat their employees? Did you know about their poor relationships with many major publishing companies? Do you realize they kind of have a monopoly on the whole “cheap books” premise? Did you know that’s their goal?
Maybe those things don’t bother you. That’s fine. But they bother me, and I wonder how I can, in good conscience, continue shopping somewhere that doesn’t treat every employee with respect and dignity, principles which go beyond issues about minimum wage and fair pay. Dignity is about far more than money.
Shop where your conscience tells you. If the article doesn’t bother you, that’s fair. But read it, and know where you’re shopping. Know where your money is going. Know what you’re supporting.
That’s one of the beauties of shopping locally, by the way. What you see is what you get. There aren’t any secrets at The Bookshelf.
We have five employees, including me. You know all of them, many of them by name. The environment we’ve created at The Bookshelf is intentional, and it was created for you, the customer, but it was also created for the people who work with me. I wanted happy employees, people who could come to work and know they’d be valued and appreciated, even if the pay isn’t great. (Because while it’s certainly fair pay, none of us will be rolling in the big bucks anytime soon. We’re a bookstore in an increasingly paperless world, after all.)
The people who work at The Bookshelf don’t “just” work retail. They read, and they study, and they get to know you as a person. And it’s not through a computer screen or a mathematic algorithm. Bookshelf staffers? Their goal is to know what you read, but it’s also to know how you’re doing, how your cancer treatment is going, and how your vacation went.
Amazon doesn’t do that, neither for its customers, nor for its employees. It never has.
Ultimately, I hope the New York Times piece influences changes in the Amazon workplace. People deserve to be treated with respect where they work, and I hope Amazon now sees how important that is.
But I also hope – somewhat selfishly, sure – that the piece inspires people to shop at the stores in their towns and communities, even if it’s a little bit more expensive, even if it’s a little bit more inconvenient.
I hope people shop at places they can trust, both because they as customers are treated well, and because the employees living in their communities are treated well.
Here’s to healthy work environments and yes, shopping locally.
See you in the shop,