When they're done right, bookstores feel kind of like home. You do as you like, stay as long as you like, have a snack, read a little, chat a little about your favorite things, and get intellectual stimulation from discussion with those who "live" there. I've been in lots of bookstores in the past few years, staying near a table of my books and directing customers to the bathroom or the nonfiction shelves. As I visit, I see the staff in action, and it's easy to tell the best stores.
Yesterday it was McLean and Eakin, a lovely place in Petoskey, Michigan, that exemplifies the good that bookstores do. The day began with the owner and me visiting a local school, where I talked about writing and she left the students with an invitation to come to the store and a list of books they might want to try. Then we went to the store, where I sold/signed books. My coming was advertised in their newsletter, and the front window showcased my work. There was a large display inside the store of authors booked to appear, including me. The staff pointed customers toward what they wanted, but when it was appropriate, they mentioned that there was an author in-house today in whom they might be interested.
It felt good to be made welcome, to be encouraged, to be treated as a partner in the process of matching people with books they will like. Much better than some bookstores where I've sat like a forgotten stepchild in a corner while the clerks recommend their favorite historical mystery writer without so much as a glance in my direction. No, it isn't all about me, but when I'm sitting right there...
On April 20, McLean and Eakin will celebrate reaching the $100,000 mark in giving back to their community. Gee: staff members who know all about books, a spirit of giving back, a welcoming atmosphere for every reader, and a true love of reading and books. That's a bookstore done right.