Every job has its clichés – and in the case of working in an independent bookstore, most of them turned out to be true.
I used to work at a shop called The Book Man, and my time there was full of the best bookstore tropes: It was founded by a lovely old man who bought us pastries on the weekends. It was owned by his daughter, which meant it was a shop run by a family of beautifully bookish nerds who loved to read just as much as I do. I was paid overtime in books. People really did come in and ask about the book they’d seen on display last week – surely we knew which one they meant? You know, the blue one?
But the best cliché by far was our bookstore cat. Nietzsche was everything you could hope for in a store cat: he slept in an armchair most of the time, he was named after a philosopher, and people came to the store just to see him.
On the other hand, having a store cat had some surprising – and awkward – downsides.
PRO: Cats are stress relievers
Stressed-out? Long day? A wild menagerie of children wreak their devastating power on the kids’ section and disappear? Our cat was on the case, twining around ankles and jumping up on counters for some quality de-stressing time. There’s nothing quite like a cat sleeping on a pile of books to cheer a person up. (You just pictured that and smiled, so you know it’s true.)
Nietzsche was also a wonderful ice-breaker with anyone who came into the shop; the coldest customer couldn’t help falling in love with his tawny fur and insistent purr. He also had a habit of showing up whenever customers became frustrated – nipping confrontations in the bud. After all, it’s hard to be mad in front of a cat.
PRO: Cats are community builders
Our store cat served as an ambassador for our store, but also as an ambassador for other cats; we originally adopted him from a local shelter, and went on to run a variety of fundraising and awareness campaigns to support it. He ended up being the face of our bookstore, but also for other cats in need of a home.
And plenty of people came into the store just to see him. When you know there’s an affectionate ball of fur waiting for you in the bookstore, it somehow becomes even more alluring than before.
Even people who professed to dislike cats couldn’t help but spend some time with our guy – because if you sat down in our reading armchair, you most likely didn’t have a choice in sharing it with him.
CON: Cats get into places they aren’t supposed to
The major problem with cats is that they’re small and they’re crafty. Nietzsche, for instance, liked to play a game called “Where can I fall asleep where I can’t be found when it’s time to close the store?”
He also liked to play a game called “It’s nice outside? I am going to escape from the store. Wait – there are cars outside? I’m going to get scared and blame you for the fact that I’m outside.”
Finally, he loved to play a game called “Hey, I wonder if I can crawl into the ceiling tiles after hours and set off the motion sensors?” The upside to this game is that police officers are really great sports and like to make cracks about “cat burglars” when they respond to an alarm call at two in the morning.
CON: Weirdos love cats too
Sometimes having a cat invited really strange or awkward interactions, such as the time a stranger tracked me down in the store and wanted to know the price of the cat. “It’s a store, isn’t it?” he demanded, a wild gleam in his eye. “That means he’s for sale.” No, sir. Only the books are for sale… only the books are for sale.
What do you think? Are you a fan of bookstore cats, or would you prefer your novels without a side of purring? Do you have a local or favourite store cat – or a store cat you’ve met on the internet that you wish you could meet in real life? Tell your tales in the comments!
Meanwhile, I highly recommend you tour The Book Man online – and definitely stop by if you’re ever in town!