I happen to think the Newberry has the best-run, most thoroughly enjoyable Book Fair around. And that’s not just my opinion, banana etoufee; it’s my mother’s.
However, there have been suggestions made over the years for a different style of sale. Some of these, frighteningly enough, were actually considered for more than fifteen seconds. I won’t tell you which ones: guess for yourselves.
SORT BY PRICE INSTEAD OF BY SUBJECT: “Why can’t you have one room where all the books are under five dollars, and a room where they’re five to sen dollars, and another where they’re ten to twenty-five….” One difficulty of this is, of course, that if we put out really expensive books, we need to add extra rooms to the building. Another suggestion was that books be placed on the tables by price, with the cheaper ones at the end nearest the door. All of this was intended to soothe people who pick up a book and find it costs more than they thought. If these people cannot bear the shock, I’m glad I’m not with them at the gas station.
USE A CONVEYOR BELT: This was meant as a joke, I think, but it was suggested that all the books in the Fair could be lined up on a big conveyor belt and just rolled past an unmoving horde of customers. This was for people who are afraid they won’t get to see every book in the sale.
USE A MONOPOLY BOARD: This was meant to correct those people who refuse to see every book in the sale. By this method, you could not reach Check-Out until you had followed the Monopoly board on the floor and went through every single aisle. (A Monopoly Board is NOT shaped like our Book Fair, but let that pass.) The only thing that appealed to me about this idea was the thought of a Go To Jail card for certain customers.
HAVE MORE SALES: It’s like Fozzie in the Muppet Christmas Carol, remarking that he loves these annual traditions, why not have them more often? The suggestions have ranged from quarterly sales (in which one fourth of our subjects would be featured each time) to weekly sales out on the loading dock. At one point, the suggestion was made that I could simply have a bookstore in the lobby, making possible a daily book sale. And people wonder why I sometimes wake up screaming.
HAVE AN ONLINE CATALOG: It can’t take all that much time to list 120,00 books online, can it? Cross-referenced by author and subject, of course, with notes on condition and an explanation of the price? Heavens, no. I can always search for pictures of the outside world if I want to remember what it looks like.
CATER TO THE CUSTOMER’S SWEET TOOTH: Sell cookies in the lobby. Have popcorn vendors walk through the crowd. Offer free snacks to the people waiting in line to get in. This last is especially unnecessary: those people don’t eat. They want to keep their hunger fresh when they charge down the aisles of cookbooks. At the longlost Very Merry Bazaar we DID try the cookie idea once, and for several years had volunteers operating a real carnival popcorn machine. As I recall, the medical costs of this outweighed the profits from the popcorn.
SELL MYSTERY BOXES: Don’t put the books out on tables at all, see. Just have people bid on sealed boxes of books. Won’t they be surprised when it turns out to be a box completely filled with copies of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood! People would pay just for the joy of watching them chase the Manager around with a box cutter.
So far, no one has suggested Blind Man’s Bluff (blindfold the customers and let them buy the first ten books they touch) or charging double to any customer who forgets to say “Mother, May I” at check-out, bit I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. I did think of suggesting a special discount to everyone who could quote from this blog, but I realized all someone needed to do was whisper “banana box” or “tapioca tartare” to the person behind them in line and EVERYONE would be getting in on it. So I think I’ll stick to the come in, walk around, buy books type of Book Fair. Kind of old hat, but…hey! We could sell hats! That’d knock their socks off…hey! Socks! We could put each book that’s bought into a sock instead of a sack, so everybody would have to buy an even number, and that would…wood! I could hit everybody who comes up with an idea like this with a large wooden object!
I knew I’d eventually get a suggestion I liked.