It’s been one year since I left my position as a customer service representative at a bookstore – a job I had for six years. When I look back at my twenties, over half of it was spent working surrounded by books. That job put me through four years of university and one year of post grad. It gave me the flexibility to take time off to study. It introduced me to people who will be my friends for the rest of my life. The year I’ve been gone from that job has been hard, since working there became a safety net. I could work other jobs, go hard with school, take trips and always come back to that job. Here are some things I learned:
1) I LOVE to read – I’ve always been a reader, but I don’t remember what my reading habits were like before I started working at the bookstore. Working there encouraged you to read. Not only could you buy books at a 30% discount, you could also borrow books, read them and return them. I discovered so many authors and series because of these perks. I never would have picked up Game of Thrones, or found Oscar Wao, or started reading the Stephanie Plum series, or black Harlequin romance novels (my weakness) if I wasn’t around books every day. I was forced to know what was new, what was on Oprah the day before, what books I had personally read that I could recommend. I had to be a reader in order to be a good employee. Now I have an overflowing bookshelf. I pass books on to my mother and sister and family members. I remember saying to a customer one Christmas season, “There’s nothing better than giving a book as gift!” and he looked at me like I was crazy.
2) Books made me smarter – Because I was around books constantly, there were times when I’d find something interesting and flip through the pages. I read non fiction books about black history, education and war, I read biographies about child soldiers and strong women, I read historical fiction that taught me about slavery, African history and Haiti. My world opened up the more I read. I know I am smarter now than I would have been if I didn’t have the access to books I had while working at the bookstore.
3) Work can bring great people in your life – Some of the greatest friends I’ve made in my twenties have been people I’ve worked with at the bookstore. I’ve travelled with them, had drunken nights with them, inside jokes that only us bookstore people will understand. There was a time when I looked forward to going to work because I loved the people I was working with. That’s something very special that I feel lucky I got to experience.
4) Starbucks is addicting – I didn’t drink Starbucks before I started working at the bookstore. There was one right inside our store, so I started visiting there trying out new things. With the suggestion of some coworkers, I tried a frappuccino one afternoon. It changed my life. I would literally buy one every time I worked. I remember specifically I was there during Christmas time, it was snowing hard outside and I went to Starbucks to get a frap. That was when I knew I had a problem.
5) Bookstores are important – I watched book sales decline at my store. In my last year I was expected to know about toys, gift products like scarves, nail polish and blankets, and features of an e-reader. I resisted all of it. I knew about books and I wanted to sell books. I still visit my old store and buy books from there when I can because books are important. I loved seeing kids and their parents cuddle up in a corner of the kids section and read a book (as long as they cleaned up after themselves). Or seeing the same women come in every month for their Harlequins. Or taking part in the midnight releases of Harry Potter or Breaking Dawn. There was a sense of community in our store. I’d be out at the grocery store or the mall and people would recognize me from the bookstore. There were regular creepy customers. There were fights and drama that kept us gossiping. That place really did become home.
I’ve visited my store a few times this year and every time I go back I miss it a little. Some of my friends are still there. The store is still the same. I still have the urge to tidy the shelves when I walk by. I was there maybe three years too long, but I look back on my time there with fondness. I learned a lot.