« Armageddon as Brought to You by People Magazine | Main | Of Mice and Men (and Men), a guest blog »

October 25, 2006

Hooked on Books

By Elaine Viets

The names have been changed to protect the guilty. But the story is true. I heard it from a bookseller.

The bookstore was small: One floor, no music department, and a café with maybe a dozen tables. The café sold sandwiches, sweets, and six-dollar coffees loaded (or larded) with sugar and whipped cream. The bookstore was in a mixed neighborhood and the customers included some rich, some poor, and a big wedge of folks in the middle.

The café tables were always taken. Computer geeks bought one coffee, opened their laptops and hogged a table for hours. College students did their homework and debated great issues. Adult women shared laughs and outrageous desserts with female friends.

And couples met there for the first time. A bookstore café was a safe place for a first date made through the Internet or the personal ads. The couple could check out one another, have a coffee and a chat. If the encounter didn’t work, one would slip out the door.

The staff grew used to seeing women waiting alone at the tables, looking at their watches, and nervous men pacing the magazine section and watching every woman who came into the café.

Most of the people in the bookstore had a certain look, sort of rumpled intellectual: good clothes, but not flashy. Muted colors. Not too much makeup for the women. Except for one. Her makeup was a little dramatic. Her clothes were a little brighter and tighter. We’re not talking rhinestones and sequins. Just slightly too much. The woman had long blond hair and a body going from lush to matronly.

She was quiet, like everyone else. She usually took a table off to the side, and sipped her coffee while she waited for her friends. She had a lot of friends. Men friends. Who didn’t look like readers.

The woman would meet the man and talk for a bit. Then the couple would slip outside. After awhile, the woman would return alone, and meet another man.

"It took awhile," the bookseller told me. "But we finally figured it out. We had a hooker in the bookstore café."

"You’re joking," I said.

"I am not," the bookseller insisted. "She had the perfect set-up. No hanging around a dangerous street corner in thigh-high boots and a bunny-fur jacket. She met her men in a respectable place, where other women checked out their dates. She had a chance to observe them.

"The men had the perfect excuse to meet her. They could tell their wives or girlfriends, ‘I’m going to the bookstore.’ What woman would object? What place could be more innocent? No sleazy motels and telltale matchbooks. They used his car in our parking lot. He bought something and made sure his wife saw the bookstore bag, and he had the perfect alibi."

"Gives new meaning to ‘book lover,’ " I said. "Her business was good for your business."

"Not really," the bookseller said. "This was not the thirty-dollar hardcover crowd. The guys bought a magazine or a two-dollar remaindered book."

"So what happened?" I asked.

"We asked the hooker to leave. We said we’d call the police if she ever met another john in our store. We never saw her again. Her customers disappeared with her. That was that."

You have to admire the woman. If you exclude the moral issues, she showed remarkable marketing ability. She found a clean, well-lighted place for her small business.

If only she hadn’t been quite so obvious, she’d still be sitting in the café.

After all, she wasn’t the first prostitute in a bookstore. With a little skill, you can stay in the bookstores forever – as a bestselling author.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Hooked on Books:


Aha! Now THAT explains the trail of feathers I've been finding at the back corner table of the bookshop.

Another great public service blog from the Book Tarts!

Talk about a full-service bookstore! And to think I was excited about the coffee bars!

Making a mental note not to wear my microskirt and thigh-high boots next time I go book-shopping. Darn.

I must admit that sometimes when I'm standing behind a table full of my own books saying such things as, "You like funny books? I can do funny. You like a fast-paced story? Sure, I can do that, too..." Well, I *feel* as if I'm hawking my wares. Maybe if I had Laura's thigh-high boots I'd have more success!

Okay, I've actually been reported to the manager as a hooker. Salem, NH. Three years ago when I was on tour as Bubbles, I sat in the back after a signing and talked with the ladies until nine. Men kept walking by and giving me looks, seeing as how I was in see-through leopard print and fishnets and, well, you get the picture. When I changed and went to the counter to thank everyone, the booksellers noted that they'd received not one, but two complaints that a hooker was at the back of the store. AND THE COMPLAINTS CAME FROM MEN!!

Of course, that bookstore's across from a race track so I guess there were issues.

Funny blog, Elaine. Hey, how many books a year do hookers read? I'm seeing a subgenre.

Gee, that could also explain the pocket-sized copies of the Kama Sutra found every so often in either the men's room or the pre-school section of the kid's department(hopefully only by us booksellers and not parents or little ones). Living in a college town, we get lots of computer geeks and study 'groups' that take up the tables and chairs in AND out of the cafe. No hookers as far as I know, but we do get the occasional homeless person or transvestite...and the guy who calls himself Khan and swears the CIA/FBI/FCC/ALF-CIO are after him because he's trying to learn Chinese and Farsi. Of course he also buys books, books and more books.I'm sure we also get first dates and computer match-ups but I'd have to check with Steve our cafe manager. He's got eyes in the back of his head when it comes to his area. Can't match the hooker but we had a guy show up holding a small child (under two) he'd found wandering in the computer section. We don't announce lost kids over the PA. We quietly check different areas of the store, look for concerned parents,etc. After 30...yep...30...minutes, our manager went into the kids department (for the third time) and finally located the parents. They were in different parts of the section with their other children and each thought the other had the baby. Ready for this? They were NOT upset with each other. They were angry at Beth. I guess for not putting a childproof gate at the entrance. Hopefully they had a discussion when they got home.
Bookstores are great places altogether :o)

What I am seeing is a great co-marketing opportunity, a new sales channel. "We don't mind if you have 'dates' here, but please steer them to the bookmarks or [insert other high-profit items here] before they leave." Not exactly Harvey Keitel from Taxi Driver, but mutual backscratching where no one gets hurt. And insist that she purchase something to use a table.

Josh - you should be a guest speaker at the next Book Convention.

I agree. A two-book minimum, must be uh . . . hardcover, and really, what's the harm? THis is America, for God's sake. The land of opportunity.

Good point, Harley. I just saw a cookbook with laminated pages (in case something spills). Might be a good idea for some books targeted at this demographic.

I think you guys should pitch this idea to Ellora's Cave.

Oh, I can top this. I used to work in a library...

Same story, only cheaper for the johns.

Um, maybe I should clarify. I actually worked FOR the library. Another lady worked for the johns.

Me and my quick-draw send! Yikes!

Sarah, I'm laughing so hard at your Salem, NH bookstore tale. Not only is that bookstore near the racetrack--the area is also surrounded by tattoo parlours. (Because tattooing used to be illegal in Massachusetts, so everyone would drive across the border to watch the ponies and get liquored up and get decorated. Maybe not in that order.)

I've worked that corner myself a few times...but not in fishnets.

Oooh Kathy...we sell cookbook holders that hold those pages open for quick reference. Might be an idea for those who want to peruse the Joy of...Cooking after leaving the store :o) Some even have 'splash guards'!

You guys are gross. Harley was pure of mind in terms of the marketing aspects: we are talking about profitable items, not topical ones.

This is an historic moment: The TLC comment section has become so naughty, it has offended Josh!

(You know what they say, Josh: You only tease the ones you love.)

Oh, Josh. Since when are profitable and topical exclusive concepts?

Gee Josh, I thought mentioning an add-on to Harley's hard cover was a profitable thing :o)

I thought her hardcover comment was because those have better margin, not anything double entendre-ish.

Although I guess this would be a good time to mention the time I was at our local independent bookshop in 1988 and asked specifically for the October issue of Playboy because "my sister is in it." It turned out that Playboy has a fiction contest annually, and my sister placed third, I think, meriting a footnote. Still, eyes were widened. We still have that issue, somewhere.

Give a whole new meaning to the term "More bang for the buck", doesn't it?

I think I was in that bookstore!
Sadly/Luckily I never noticed the hooker, I actually go to bookstores to browse at books. I miss so much of life.

I guess I'm going to have to put the bookstore's number into the call list I use for mobilealibi.com - looks like a great place.

hello world!

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site