punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Another book store story

One of the reasons I quit Crown Books was that Crown Books did very little themselves; they outsourced everything to the lowest bidder. I think Crown Books owned maybe 20% of anything that ran the store. They owned the corporate center in Landover, a few warehouses, and that was it. So when something went wrong, it was a mess.

One day, a driver by the name of J. Muggs came to our store from the warehouse where we stocked all the "bestsellers." CB had only three types of books they sold at the time: current bestsellers, "best of backlist" (steady titles), and "remainders," (books so cheap, they were sold to us by weight, not title). Most of the remainders and bestsellers came from the warehouse, where they were delivered to us from a huge mac truck, several times a week, in huge yellow laundry bins (the kind usually used for moving around huge amounts of laundry in a hotel, for example; a large rubberized canvas bag on a rolling frame). Mr. Muggs, a new driver, drove up and backed into the front of my store. Most drivers pulled along side the store so they wouldn't block traffic in front of the shopping center, but this guy backed up at a 90 degree angle. Well, we had an overhanging sign.

I told him to stop, using three methods: shouting "STOP!!", waving my arms in a crossing motion, and shaking my head in terror. There was a crash, and white plastic bits rained on my head, and cut into my neck.

Mr. Muggs had backed the truck into our store front. We were now "CROW OOKS" because the truck had crushed the N, the little crown logo, and the B. Mr. Muggs said he was sorry, and I didn't even notice the cuts (and a bump on the top of my head) until I got home that evening. I had to promptly file a report on Mr. Muggs, and he predictably told his boss I distinctly told him to back up. Luckily, no one believed him, mostly because the way he backed up was so ludicrous, it wouldn't have allowed the elevated platform to operate.

So, now I had to get my sign fixed and this started an 8 month process that was completely unbelievable. To fix the sign, I had to contact the following people, all of whom came from completely different companies that barely spoke to one another:

- The sign electrician
- The people who installed the sign timer
- The people who installed the sign to the roof
- The "roof electrician" (who was different than the sign electrician)
- The guy who hooked up the neon that lit the sign
- The company that made the plastic covering over the neon
- Some undisclosed company listed simply as "maintenance"

Each one had to have a purchase order request, which required me to call them, get their vendor number, submit PO approval from corporate, and get the approval back. Then I had to contact the company and set up when they got there, and half the time, as you can see from the list above, another company would have to get involved. "Oh, we can't hook up wiring through the roof, that's the roof electrician!" In many cases then I'd not only have to submit a PO Approval for the new guy, but the old one would expire, and I'd have to reorder another POA for the original guy.

Luckily, POs never got rejected. This process was so unchecked, once, as some sarcastic proof just how screwed up this was, I submitted a POA for a hot tub. Complete with all the fixings, based on figures I made up, and came to about $6400. It was approved.

During this time, Combined Properties, the landlords who owned the shopping center, sent some sniveling nit about once a week to fine us for having a broken sign. Combined Properties was owned by the Haft Empire that also owned Crown Books. The Hafts were fining themselves, something I pointed out to this effeminate snob, who once tried to get me to pay him from my till because I had a slew of unpaid fines. Luckily, corporate handled it, and my store never actually had to pay anything.

The "sign timer" people, by the way, were so incompetent, they broke the sign timer. I don't even know WHY the sign timer people had to get involved, but after they broke the timer housing with a hammer because they couldn't figure out a simple buckle latch, and then broke off the disk that showed the 24 hour cycle the sign ran on, I actually threw them out. I had to fix the sign timer with a pair of pliers. Idiots.

After 8 months, I finally got the sign fixed. About a year after I left, someone backed into the sign again, and it was humorously spelled, "CRO OKS" until the store was closed, and turned into a TJ Maxx sometime in the early 90s.

There were other stories about that as well. We had yearly store audits, and I showed a $40,000 shrink on year. I panicked, but the Loss Prevention guy said, "Relax, that's only 4%... it was lost in paperwork most likely. Your store is really low for shrink, we don't even start investigating unless it's over 10%." Damn, I should have stolen more books.

Our store was also part of a "bet" Bobby Haft had with some corporate bigwigs. "I bet if I put a store here, it will do better than all the stores in the same area. It's between 6 schools, 5 neighborhoods, and recently went upscale. They're also building a super post office next door!" They told him no, so, as Bobby explained, "I built this store from spite, and damn if I wasn't right!" He built it from the ABC Liquor store they had to shut down when the neighborhood went upscale, and not only did we do better than the other stores nearby, we actually stole customers from most of them. This made some corporate people bitter, so our store got a lot of abuse. If we had a bestseller they were out of at another store, the district manager was allowed to take all our stock. Other managers were instructed by other DMs not to help us out. And despite being out of books that were popular half the time, we still did about 30% better year after year. That made us even MORE hated by other stores. I got bonuses and they got squat. So you can imagine the headaches.

The last straw came right before Christmas. They didn't give me calendar shelving, again, and so the calendars were really hard to keep neat on normal shelves. One day, and I recall it was a Saturday, I had opened so in the evening I was at home, and lounging in bed, reading something. Suddenly, my boss drives up to my house, comes in, and goes to my bedroom, where my roommates just told him where I was. He proceeded to chew me out about how messed up the calendar section was while I sat in my own bed in my skivvies. That's pretty... awkward. I don't know how many of you have ever been chewed out by a boss in your own bedroom, but let me tell you... it sucks. It's humiliating. Since twice I had been denied vacation that year, too, and recently I was rather bitter I could not visit my fiancee during Christmas. My boss said he'd discuss with me the situation early at work Sunday morning, so I called Amtrak, got a ticket to Cumberland, and took my store key off my key ring. That Sunday, I came to work early where he was with one of my full-timers. I handed him my key, shook his hand, and said, "No hard feelings, okay? I am taking my vacation as of immediately, and afterwards, you know where to mail the last check. I prefer you not deliver it in person again." and quit. He was sort of shocked, and looked sad. "Okay..." he said as if I just told him he wasn't getting a pony for Christmas. Later that day I was on my way to West VA. I realized I quit days before the end of Christmas rush. I also realized I had no new job lined up, which freaked out my roommates, one of them being the other manager of the store (each store had two managers). "Is he coming back?"

All of us made our peace over the event. I was not asked to come back, although later I was told, "If you wanted your job back, I would have let you come back, I realize I was out of line by barging into your bedroom." I later took him up on that offer at another store about a year later, which ended badly, but it wasn't his fault.

I kind of miss working at a book store. I don't miss the hours, pay, and interstore employee bullshit, but I liked the books and the customers. The employee discount sure helped, too. Oh, and even though that Crown Books had been there for years, a few people still shuffled in and looked confused. "Where's all the booze?" they'd ask. Sadly, my little alchie friend, that store is long gone. Hasn't been here for years. "No no," one said, "it was here last week!" I sort of feel the same way, now, when I walk into book stores: a little confused. Some of the stuff that was the new bestsellers are now out of print, notably some science fiction titles. I went to Borders near our house, and noticed most of the Alan Dean Foster titles I used to know are gone, and there are new titles I have never seen before.
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