Quiet Condemnation, Public Praise

When I visited Jonesboro, AR for my nephew’s recent birthday, I stopped briefly in their Barnes & Noble, hoping to find a copy of a book I had not been able to track down locally. Looking around their store, I noticed a good number of people throughout the area, looking through books, sitting in the cafe, and relaxing in the seating area.

These are the sorts of things one would expect to see in a bookstore, especially a Barnes & Noble. I haven’t seen such a sight in the better part of five years.

This is the Cape Girardeau, MO Barnes & Noble, a place where I worked for almost seven years. It is not a bookstore, despite what the sign above the door says. The people who work there are not booksellers, they are Nooksellers. Even worse, they are not people, they are cogs in a poorly paid, joyless machine designed to sell all manner of merchandise and, maybe, a book.

I do not blame the company for this distinction, all one needs to do is look at the Jonesboro, AR location to see what a bookstore looks like. In Cape Girardeau, there is no seating area, as it was removed years ago. There is a cafe, but it acts more like an attachment to the rest of the store, not a place where customers can pause from their shopping. The aisles in the Cape Girardeau store are often barren, not just of customers, but of books; the shelves are being converted to store more merchandise other than reading material.

These changes were implemented by a man I will call the Prince of Lies, since his tongue is forked along with the trident he carries in his crimson hand. Three years into my tenure there, the Prince was inserted from an outside store and proceeded to slither into the full power of his reign. Breaks became a thing of the past, steady schedules drifted into memory. Long hours and low pay became the standard. It was the toil of those eternally imprisoned in a fiery abyss.

Not all of these things were under the direct control of the Prince of Lies. He proceeded to welcome those things that would make him feel empowered, elements that would trim money from the weekly paychecks of his employees, all so he could fatten his bonus at the end of the year.

In the last year I was there, the year following my Dad’s death, he became displeased with my performance. I admit I struggled to find any success. I was carrying over a third of the store’s transactions and fighting to sell one membership a week, much less three in a day. I could still recommend books to most anyone, finding people a quality story to read, regardless of their mood. Even trapped behind the register, I could still do this.

When I ask a bookseller for advice, I want their opinion. If they find me something to read, I will feel loyalty to that bookseller, if not for the store as a whole. Many of my customers were of the same opinion, allowing me to sell books, even if I was talking to a regular customer who had long since rejected the notion of membership.

The Prince of Lies, in an effort to aid my performance said, “As long as you keep trying, the numbers will come.” Years earlier, he said my running of the Gift department was unnecessary, since I didn’t need it for job security.

In early March 2013, the assistant manager I reported to told me I had improved and that I shouldn’t have to worry about numbers as long as I kept doing what I had been doing. He even documented it. This manager left to run another store within two weeks.

A week after that, the Prince of Lies asked me to help him by running the Music department since no one was on hand to watch it. Halfway through my shift, the Prince of Lies fired me, telling me my numbers weren’t good enough. I should have sued him, but he disguised my dismissal as a company mandated result, not the act of greed that it really was.

My forced departure was the first in a series. Within a year, everyone who had worked there as long as I had or longer was “separated” through some means. All of us were replaced either with present coworkers who were paid lower rates or temporary workers not even making minimum wage. All so the Prince of Lies could arrange to get an annual bonus.

The Prince followed the mandate that the Nook was the future and every department, including Music and Cafe, had to sell the device. His store features a massive Nook display, including a big screen TV with a false border designed to make it look like the machine.

While the Jonesboro store features an area devoted to the e-reader, it does not dominate the view of an entering customer, nor does it carry a big screen display.

The Nook has faded from it’s moment in the sun. The executives who pushed it have abandoned the company. Before you think I’m anti-Barnes & Noble or anti-Nook, check out my listing for Vitamin F, which I could easily justify shooting to KDP Select through Amazon.

Since the Prince of Lies escorted me to the door, I have not stepped foot within that establishment.  I find it immoral to give support, much less money to a man who makes a point to lie to his employees, a man who thrives off deception and cruelty to others, no matter what their rights may be.  Two days ago, I heard the Prince of Lies had finished his last day, his efforts at greed and money-grubbing past.  His weasel snout now sniffs around a seminary, drawing his cloven feet into the ministry of some unsuspecting church.

As for me, I hope the change lets the Cape Girardeau store become more like what it once was.  Even if it only grasps in the direction of what the Jonesboro staff is doing, making that place into a bookstore again would be a positive step all around, not just in morale but in money made.  I might even go back in.


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