by Morgan on November 20, 2011
Well, I’m in New York! Somewhat abrupt, but that’s the way I do things. The impetus for this temporary move is to gain some bookstore experience. I realize that I could do this in Los Angeles, but there’s something about the immersion aspect of being in New York that really appeals to me, something about being in the heart of the beast, so to speak.
I’m working full-time for the holiday season at Crawford Doyle Booksellers, an absolute dreamboat of a store on the Upper East Side (my favorite bookstore in the city, actually). I think CD is the first place I’ve ever been employed where the inner workings are as impressive as the presentation. You know that “don’t look in the kitchen” thing? It doesn’t exist there. They run a tight ship.
The manager, Thomas, does the buying, and based on the selection in the store, he’s got the best taste on planet Earth. I swear, there is nothing superfluous there. Every section is finely edited, hand-chosen, and meticulously managed. And because the store is so small, and therefore the staff is, too, everyone who works there has a solid grasp on the inventory and can speak about it at length with customers. My co-worker Lauren is a hand-selling superstar; she’s got this very nuanced approach to book selling that combines intuition, product knowledge and efficiency. I’ll learn a lot from her, I think.
The store is beautiful, all dark wood and sliding ladders, first editions and appealing displays that change and evolve every day. Which is good, because there are a lot of regular customers. They come in several times a week, and as the week progresses, so too does the presentation. For these loyal locals, CD must be like a living thing; comfortable and familiar, but ever shifting, breathing, growing.
This is the type of bookstore I want to have in Los Angeles. CD is a true community bookstore. Their bestsellers are bestsellers (and to me, this is a miracle) due to word of mouth. Yes! This is the best part about the store: the customers talk to each other. They stop in the door and show each other their finds, they stand among the shelves and rave about what they’re reading, and rail against other, larger corporate booksellers that shall remain nameless here. They buy their favorites for each other and leave them behind the cash register, or have us drop them off for a friend. They share this place, this warm little nook on Madison Avenue, because they truly understand that they are a part of it, that they are it. One customer and I spoke about how shopping at local bookstores is a form of political activism, and it seems all of CD’s regulars understand this. They rarely lament the price of the books: they rejoice that they’re still able to buy them in their neighborhood. And often, they come into the store just to talk. About books. I’M IN HEAVEN.
Of course, there are aspects of CD’s appeal that are intrinsically New York – the common touchstone of the Times review, the customers who want Roth because he lives in the neighborhood – but this kind of bookstore could work anywhere because it’s real power comes from knowing its customers. Knowing them and responding to them and intuiting what they want before they know that they want it. And then listening to them, engaging in a real exchange of ideas that affects the shape and tone of the store.
I feel very fortunate to have found this place. If you’re in New York, come visit me. And if you’re in LA, just wait. I’m coming back, and I’m doing this thing.