*Please note that the following essay does not apply to my regular customers, or new customers who have serious questions about books, prices, etc. I enjoy conversing with my regular customers, new customers, people traveling through, etc.
There are a lot of lonely people in upstate New York, mostly men, whose loneliness seems to be self created, drowning the people nice enough to lend them an ear in a tsunami of words and whose own ears are stopped up so they never know what you are saying even if they come up for air, which they rarely do. They seek out small business owners and sole proprietors, monopolizing their time, sometimes buying something, most of the time not.
Apparently they think booksellers have nothing to do—that the books walk into the store, research their own value, price themselves, enter themselves into the database and jump up on the shelf after dusting it off. Then they sell, ship themselves and record the sales. That means the bookseller then only has to order supplies, clean the store, keep financial records, pay taxes, answer the phone, make special orders for customers, deal with sales and ad reps, plan book signings and other events—a virtual vacation.
If your store is located in the downtown of one of the many small cities in the rust belt, let’s say Amsterdam, New York, just to pick a city at random, then the owner also has to deal with beggars—two in the last week alone. One asked for $2.00 on a day when I hadn’t even taken in $2.00. The other wanted more because he said his son had just died of cancer, and he had to travel to wherever his son was and needed money for bus fare. He emphasized several times that he was a military veteran. I couldn’t help but wonder why he waited until his son died to go see him. And then there was the powerful smell of alcohol, even though he was at least twenty feet away from me.
When I first opened my shop, a woman hit me up for $2.00. She needed it for the bus. I doubted her, but a few minutes later she was running after and flagging the bus down with my $2.00. She was a woman with a very high BMI, but she ran amazingly fast, her buttocks quaking and shaking like jelly, “’cause jam don’t shake like that.”
She came back a second time and asked for $5. I gave it to her. She came back later that day and asked me to buy her a slice of pizza at the pizza shop down the street. By now, I was getting a little annoyed and told her I had already given her $5 and besides she didn’t need any pizza. She could go several days without food and not suffer. A third time, she came and cried that it was her 50th birthday and no one had remembered. It was a hot day so I offered her a free soda from my refrigerator but nothing else. She came back one more time a couple of weeks later. She had a check from a Catholic charity made out to her and wanted me to cash it. I refused and sent her to our local Catholic Charities organization.
Since that time, I have given a few people a few dollars here and there, but I finally came to the conclusion that I was going to have to put a stop to it. During the Depression, people who were willing to feed tramps and hobos sometimes had their houses marked so other people would know they were a soft touch. I began to wonder if my store wasn’t marked as a soft touch. It’s hard to say no to people, but on the other hand there are two charitable agencies and several churches within a short distance from my store. My new policy is to recommend they go there.
Whether beggars or malingerers, all the lonely people who hang around our downtowns and trouble small businesses are a serious problem. They affect the bottom line of small businesses which often operate on a small margin of profit. They discourage real customers from entering stores. Time is money, and they waste both.
Only one customer has shown she understands that time is money. On December 24, 2014, I received a Christmas card with $10 in it and an apology from the sender for taking up so much of my time without buying anything. Few cards have pleased me as much as this one. If everyone who wasted my time had done the same thing, I would be a millionaire now. But then if wishes were horses, booksellers would ride.