Encounters in a Bookstore #86: Closing Time

There was a time in my life when I was excited at the prospect of “closing” a bar. I was in Virginia somewhere, the bars closed at 2am, we were there for last call, and then we were still there when the main lights flicked on. And then we left.

The bookstore where I work closes at 11pm. One night per week I am scheduled to work the closing shift, and closing time always seems slow to come. The hours stagger by, I lean against the cash register, someone else rearranges the bestseller wall, and the customers mosey about the store, leaving this book on that shelf and that magazine there on the floor. Maybe that plush toy gets left on this DVD rack. This cup of coffee gets spilled on those new nonfiction hardcovers.

At 10:30pm the manager on duty makes an overhead announcement that the store will be closing in thirty minutes. For my coworkers and I, this is the first of several welcome announcements. For a few of the customers, this is their call to leave. For others, it’s time to run to the women’s restroom and hide in the handicap stall. Still others, it’s the call to ram those ear buds farther into their ears and continue to paw through the stack of fifteen books on their cafe table, with a noticeable lack of any cafe item also present on the table.

At 10:45pm the manager on duty makes another announcement, that the store will be closing in fifteen minutes. Sometimes he or she waits until 10:50, and thus that there are only ten minutes left to make messes and not buy things. Around this time a steady stream of doctors and nurses will pour in and head to the cafe for the dregs of the coffee pot.

At 10:55pm, after the five minute announcement, the earbud customers spur themselves to action, grab their stack of books, and fling themselves down the escalator to “put their books away” in an untidy stack on a display table of cookbooks or graphic novels. They may also stop in the bathroom for the last time, where the handicap stall in the women’s room is still occupied.

At 11:00pm, when the closing announcement has been made, the security guard stands post at the door and the paid detail goes around the entire store to scare up those customers who have been hiding among the shelves. A small line will form at the registers, because people didn’t realize earlier that the store would be closing at 11:00pm. Last minute decisions will be made—or even after-last-minute decisions—and will result in returns the following night.

And then, somewhere between 11:05 and 11:10 the all-clear will sound. We will grumble and count the money and put things where they belong, and grumble some more, and gather our own things and get the heck out of there.

It seems that for some people, the idea of ‘closing’ a bookstore is as exciting as closing a bar was at one time for me. I would imagine, though, that bartenders and booksellers are not so different when it comes to the patrons who stay and stay and stay and stay. So for me, lesson learned.

Now I need to get Semisonic out of my head.

Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.