MORNING ON CATFISH ROW // YOU SUSTAIN ME

I’m plugging in the neon “open” sign in the bookshop window, preparing to begin the day’s business.
As I struggle putting the $2-book-and-record racks out on the sidewalk, I see Rhondrae, just across the street at Goodyear Shoe Hospital. Her red hair glows in the sun as she swishes her broom and spreads the leaves and dust over the curb.
When was the last time I saw a banker sweeping up in front of his own bank?
I see Melissa next door at Sojourns hauling her A-frame sign and balancing it on the walkway, her smile adding to the sunlight.
When was the last time I saw an attorney putting up a sign in front of his own office?
I pick up the many cigarette butts in front of my shop, left there by my customers and the employees of the law firm next door at the Massey Building.
When was the last time I saw a smoker dispose of a cigarette in the enormous City trash can on the sidewalk?
I politely brush off a salesman who wants to examine my phone service records and credit card terminals to give me a “better” deal.
When was the last time one of these salespeople actually took time to shop at the store? Do they realize that I’ll give the time of day to any sales rep who will try to learn a little about my business and actually shop here? The income they are missing!
A self-published author wants me to sell her new book in the store. When I show her my latest published book, she sniffs at it, puts it down and continues her sales pitch.
Will she ever understand why I turn her down?
The publisher of a small “literary” journal wants me to purchase copies for the shop but doesn’t bother to open or purchase the Birmingham Arts Journal I proudly show him.
Has he ever heard of tit for tat?
I go about opening up and operating my sidewalk shop in much the same way each day, pretty much repeating my motions—with variations. Since some kind of civilization began, I suppose the rituals have been similar—we bazaar vendors have our routines, routines that keep us grounded, routines our customers come to expect of us.
And we also have always dealt with non-customers who want a favor given without giving a favor.
Much of each day is spent providing free advice and consultation to people who want to know the “value” of a book or those who want me to research and find an obscure title—then turn me down, saying, “Oh now that you’ve helped me find it, I’ll just go online and order it myself.” No kidding!
Much of my social life is spent listening to folks promising me that they will someday visit Reed Books—they’ve heard so much about it, you know—but who, year after year, never come in.
I just chuckle and go about my business.
What sustains me during all this rejection?
You do. You sustain me.
You are the customer who shops and enjoys and purchases. You are the customer who returns to the shop, bringing friends and family. You are the customer who gives me thumbs-up reports on Facebook and Twitter and other social media. You are the customer who “gets” it—you get the fact that I’m here providing a service that only 60 years of experience can provide.
You are the customer who remembers to thank me for Being Here, just after I thank you for Shopping Here.

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