Friday, June 21, 2013

rep road: dateline halifax

Eighteen days is a long time to be away from home, partner, dog, books, Milwaukee.   By the time I got to Halifax I fear my fatigue was showing a bit, but it’s a great city with a fantastic bookstore, so I got my second- or was it third- wind.

One complaint: the airport is practically in another province (they put it so far away to avoid the fog, I was told today), and the only shuttle bus went bankrupt last year.  So the only way to get into the city is a $70 cab ride!  Someone at the airport thought there might be a municipal bus that stops everywhere, but they were vague about it.  Surely a more efficient link to the airport is a piece of infrastructure worth investing in.  C’mon Halifax.

I’m not here enough to be loyal to any particular hotel, and they are all pretty steep in summertime.  Trip Advisor bargain roulette yielded the Atlantica, a sprawling touristy place on the far side of the Citadel.  I had a Keith’s at the bar with some elderly people from Louisiana who were scouting ancestors (“her idea,” the husband snarled.)  They didn’t believe me when I told them the new Canadian money was plastic until I showed them a twenty dollar bill.

My meeting with the Book Mark buyer wins best venue award for the season- the Halifax Public Gardens café on one of the balmiest days of the year.  It was a little hard to concentrate, since the nearest tree was a monumental centuries-old oak (I think), and the rest of the landscape is also stunning.   Hard to ignore such wonders when we’re trying to sort out game studies books that might work.  It’s a great appointment with lots of digressions, but we kept returning to the catalogs.  Mike is one of those veteran buyers who, despite having done this for a long while, seems to approach each book with curiosity and an eye for its potential.  Our conversation is a tonic.

I thought it was interesting when he said that Philosophy and Architecture were two sections of the store where customers actually compliment them on the selection.  This is in contrast to some other sections (fiction especially) which seem to invite very detailed critiques from certain customers.  These self-appointed sticklers, who can't believe you've shelved author X in section Y, or that you haven't got title Z on hand,  are familiar to every good indie bookseller.  I still bitterly recall the local photography diva who once handed me a list of the titles he felt were missing from our Photo section when I was a bookseller.  He hadn’t actually bought a book from us in years.

But perhaps there’s something positive about these people.  They keep us on our toes, force us to look at the way we do things, and maybe even signal a sense of ownership about the shop that’s an asset, something worth cultivating.  I feel that way about my local food co-op.  Hard to imagine cranky customers calling Amazon to complain about a section designation.  Or getting a response.

My US bookseller friends should remember to raise a bottle (Alexander Keith’s, St Ambroise or Boreale if you can find it) to their fantastic comrade Canadian booksellers on Canada Day July 1!

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