I work for Nicole Sullivan but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of her agenda and her worst inclinations.
Nicole is facing a test to her bookstore ownership unlike any faced by a modern bookseller.
It’s not just that Amazon looms large. Or that Tennyson Street is undergoing unprecedented construction. Or even that Winter is coming and we will once again be faced with shoveling the sidewalks. Of a large corner lot!
The dilemma – which she does not fully grasp – is that many of the staff leaders within her own store are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of her agenda and her worst inclinations.
I would know. I am one of them.
The be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the Fiction section. We want the store to succeed and think that many of its polices have already made our community more literate and more well read.
But we believe our first duty is to this store, and the owner continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our adult coloring book section.
That is why many BookBar staff have vowed to do what we can to preserve our inventory of literary action figures while thwarting Ms. Sullivan’s more misguided impulses until she attends the next trade show.
The root of the problem is the owner’s insatiable love of pumpkin spice. Anyone who works with her knows that she is not moored to any discernible latte flavor except for the creamy, earthy, all-natural pumpkin sauces (made in house) that go into our lattes. While she enjoys our other hand-made latte flavorings, such as Chocolate Ganache, Vanilla Bean, Nutella, and Helliemae’s Caramel and Chili Caramel, it is a Pumpkin Spice Latte that she grabs first thing to guide her decision making. That is, until Peppermint season rolls around.
Although she loves everything book, the owner shows little affinity for the Twilight series, for story lines long espoused by Young Adult Authors: brooding teens who love sparkly vampires. At best, she has invoked these ideals in book reviews. At worse, she has skimmed through them outright.
In addition to her mass-marketing of the notion that Amazon is the enemy of the reader, author, and publisher, Ms. Sullivan’s impulses are generally anti-monopolistic.
Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless positive coverage of the health of Independent Book Stores: stronger communities, more dollars going to local schools and services, better inventory curation, and more.
But these successes have come despite – not because of – Nicole’s leadership style, which is an impulse to throw parties for each and every occasion, the inability to finish a sentence without a Saturday Night Live quote, and to come up with a new business idea every day.
From the bar to the children’s rooms to the poetry section, staff will privately admit their daily disbelief at Nicole’s willingness to read very nearly anything. And we mean anything. Most are working to insulate their staff recs from her whims.
Meetings with her veer off topic from BookBar to ReadTribe to Mavis the Magical BookMobile to BookGive. She engages in repetitive dumb jokes (did you hear the one about the monkey who fell out of the tree?), and her impulsiveness results in too many book-related businesses to count.
“There is literally no telling whether she might change her mind from one minute to the next as she careens wildly from reading Fiction to Non-Fiction and back again,” a top official staff leader complained to me recently, exasperated by a staff meeting at which Nicole announced that we would be hosting more literary wine tastings and book and bar pairings.
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around BookBar. Some staff have been cast as book nerds by the community. But in private, they are uber book nerds. They have gone to great lengths to try to contain their intense lit love to the book stacks but they are clearly not always successful.
It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but our customers should know that there are sometimes few adults in the room. Our story times are often a giggling, singing, dancing, crowd of children who overtake the store, outnumbering grown-ups 4 to 1. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to make sure that it happens every day.
The result is a two-track bookstore and bar
Take our inventory: In public and in private Nicole shows a preference for our bold red wines, such as BookBar Blend; and hoppy beers such as our 4 Noses Brewing IPA, while enjoying a literary non-fiction.
Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the staff is operating on another track, one where a Blueberry Lavender Cider pairs well with a contemporary fiction novel.
On buying, for instance, Nicole was reluctant to let some of our classics titles go, despite slower sales. She complained for weeks about staff not boxing themselves in once in awhile with some weeks dedicated to Tolstoy. She has been stocking up on journals for the upcoming winter months and holiday shopping season, insisting that people write more and give more gifts during this time. Staff will sometimes intervene, sneaking in more Golden Girls Mad Libs.
This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the nerdy state.
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the store of hacking her buying account, which would start a complex process for removing so many books about animals being smarter than we are. But no one wanted to precipitate an inventory crisis. So we will do what we can to steer our buyers in the right direction – more books by and about Donald Trump!
The bigger concern is not what Nicole has done to the bookstore but what we have allowed her to do to us. We have sunk to reading anywhere and everywhere at all hours of the day. People are coming together to read and discuss, host book clubs, meetings, talk about important issues, enjoy wonderful food and drink, pick up some gifts for friends and family. Some are even reading together… silently.
All customers should heed her words and break free of the monopolistic, big box, online trap, with the high aim of reading together about our shared values and love of the book.