"You sure have a lot of books in here. Have you read them all?" At some point in your bookish life, somebody has probably asked that question while visiting your home. My answer is usually a relatively cheerful no, but the question leaves a strange aftertaste. I wonder what the point of it is. I think of variations on wiseass and/or obscene replies I could have offered up.
What would the bookseller equivalent be? Nobody enters a bookstore and asks, "Have you read all these books?" But there's another, more realistic question they would never think to ask: Have you ever counted all these books? Well, yes, to an extent. It's called inventory.
Winter happens to be a good time of year to "do inventory" for many booksellers because the holiday season rush is in past tense and business tends to be, while not hibernal stock-still, at least a little calmer.
For some reason, I recently found myself paying attention to other people's inventory daze, taking stock you might say.
|The Bookstore, Lenox
It all began on January 14, when the Bookstore, Lenox, Mass., posted on Facebook: "Another successful Inventory Day!"
This knocked some memories loose. For the record, I absolutely hated inventory days during the 15 years I was a bookseller. It was a terrible, boring, seemingly endless task, and in the early 1990s much less technologically adept than it is now (I hope). Although bookshops are treasured for their nooks and crannies, when you're trying to count books, all those hiding places are considerably less cozy.
Admittedly, the counting itself was less egregious than the days afterward spent checking our sections (shelves, displays and even backstock, in those days before just-in-time ordering ) for discrepancies in the numbers. Why did the dot matrix printout say we had five copies of John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus when clearly only three were on hand? Etc... ad nauseam. Eventually our bookstore farmed out the actual counting to a professional inventory company, but the dreaded discrepancy checks were a forever curse.
|Shakespeare & Co, Paris
Anyway, as I continued tracking bookshop inventory trends, the momentum started building on January 30, when Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France announced they would be closed the following two days "for our annual inventory"; and Swedish bookseller Uppsala English Bookshop in Uppsala said its "shops are closed for stock inventory."
Maine checked in on January 31. An e-newsletter from Print: A Bookstore in Portland noted that the shop had postponed its stocktaking: "Due to extenuating circumstances we weren't able to complete inventory last week so we'll be taking care of it this Wednesday (2/2)." On Instagram, hello hello books in Rockland said it would be closing February 6-11 "for our annual inventory, returns and resetting process.... We'll see you at 9 a.m. on Saturday the 12th, with brains full of numbers." Or, as owner Lacy Simons wrote in the shop's newsletter: "We're gonna keep this brief because we're busy brushing up on fifth grade math in advance of our upcoming annual inventory shenanigans."
I thought the momentum was really kicking in when WORD Bookstore posted on February 1: "Our Jersey City store is closed today for inventory! We'll see you tomorrow"; and Madison Street Books, Chicago, Ill., noted on Instagram: "After inventory and a snowstorm, we are open!"
But then Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn., threw me a major league curve on February 3: "We're closed for inventory today, but you can still shop with us online!" Four days later, however, Parnassus added: "Okay, so maybe we weren't closed for inventory on Thursday.... We were beyond honored to host Dolly Parton, James Patterson, and the crew from CBS Sunday Morning in honor of James and Dolly's upcoming book, Run, Rose, Run!"
The Brewster Book Store, Brewster, Mass., put me back on track February 9 with a tribute to the shop's "inventory super heroes! Two days of counting every book in stock. We’re back open tomorrow and can’t wait to see you."
|Savoy Bookshop, Westerly, R.I.
In Denver, Colo., the Bookies Bookstore posted: "Turns out, inventory takes quite a long time when you have ten of thousands of books, games, and teaching aides to catalog! So, we’ll be closed today, Monday February 28th. We appreciate your support and understanding and can’t wait to see you Tuesday."
That same day Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., posted: "Today is inventory day! While we’re closed today as we count everything, we’ll be open tomorrow our regular hours." And from its sister store, Savoy Bookshop and Cafe in Westerly, R.I: "STAFF APPRECIATION POST: We don’t spend enough time bragging about our staff here. Yesterday our team spent 10+ hours counting every single item in store. They are all rockstars and this bookstore wouldn’t exist without them. To our booksellers, baristas, managers, marketing and events team, bookkeeper, and everyone else who keeps this business running, THANK YOU."
|Gutter Bookshop, Dublin
In other corners of the globe this week, Kalk Bay Books in Cape Town, South Africa, shared a photo of a sign in the shop announcing that on Monday, "we will be closed for stocktaking. Apologies for any inconvenience... wish us luck... bring us hot pizzas and cold Savannas." Irish bookseller Gutter Bookshop in Dublin tweeted: "Our Cow's Lane bookshop will close at 4.30pm today (Tues 1st March) for our annual stocktake. Sorry for any inconvenience!" And much later: "Still beeping...."
Still beeping, indeed. Yes, it's that inventory time of year again. Do you know where your books are?