16 July 2005

Behind the Harry Potter lines

The release of this latest Harry Potter tome takes me back to my firsthand experience of the craze in July 2000.
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The store was dead when I arrived, but there was more staff on hand than I'd ever seen at once including staff meetings. Managers and staff from the other branch had joined us for the release of Harry Potter IV: Goblet of Fire.

Since our district manager and the regional vice president were due to show up sometime during the night, we were assigned SONICing. Straight, Organized, Neat, Impeccably Clean. I.e., arrange the books symmetrically tall to short while placing hardbacks face out favoring an aesthetic over alphabetical order.

To get out of the alpha-pretty initiative, I pointed out that I still had books to put out from that week's shipment. Since I had the weekend off, the books wouldn't get touched again until Monday; thankfully, my argument was persuasive, so I spent the next couple of hours productively.

Around 8:50, I was in the back putting away some overstocks when a manager suggested I stop shelving and help with crowd control. I walked back onto the floor now swarming with over a hundred people that seemed to have materialized instantaneously.

Kids in costumes, parents milling, and everyone with questions including the staff. With the bookstore’s usual bureaucracy, the directives I'd read merely said what was supposed to happen, not where or who or how; it was chaos.

I initially dodged face painting in favor of wizard hat making, but once I saw the supplies we had I had no more idea than the kids what we were expected to do with 8x11 pieces of construction paper in terms of making a hat. Dante and I set up some tables, covered them with paper, spread stuff out, and basically left each other hanging as we took turns wandering off until Dante decided it was a wizard hat design contest.

The company big-wigs arrived with the tv crew and added to the mayhem. The roar of conversation drowned out the store music and intercom as more people arrived.

Around ten, I ended up face painting to relieve Brandi so she could judge costumes. I'd never done it before, but once I realized that the expectations were low, and the kids and adults thought I was good, I had fun with it. Lightning bolts, leopards, cats, baseballs, rainbows, hearts, stars: I painted them all.

And then I was back in the fray.

My mistake was going back to customer service. We'd been taking reserves for the book up to the day before, but during the night the regional v.p. told people we'd keep taking reserves. We only had about 50 books beyond the existing list, so I started counting as we added names. Holding 'The List' was simply a bad idea. For 45 minutes, a steady stream of people asked me to add their names or to verify that they were already on The List. They asked about the procedure of getting books. (There wasn't one yet.) People started forming lines without provocation. One guy stood in front of customer service for a couple of hours saying he was just going to follow The List.

I got away and left The List behind to help some poor suckers who'd come in for regular shopping. They were very understanding as I stood in the aisles with a pronounced inability to concentrate.

Rockstar, our shipping and receiving clerk, wasn't working but stopped by to witness the mayhem. He commented that I looked stressed out and asked if I'd had a break yet; I hadn't. By then it was after 11 PM, I was losing my voice, and I was totally dehydrated. He kindly bought me a drink from the cafe and set it in the back room for me.

Finally a plan emerged (albeit a bad one) for distributing the books. Two separate lines: the reserved folk at customer service (that guy was smart to follow The List) and the nonreserved at the front. Of course knowing we were going to be short copies, it was ill-advised to have both lines going simultaneously, but that was the directive of the regional v.p., and what she says, you do.

I hung to the back and started putting away all the magazines and books on the floor and benches. The store was a disaster, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend forever cleaning after everyone had gone.

After a while they ran out of copies for both lines; I was glad I didn't have to deal with the people who'd reserved books in advance and hadn't gotten them. Once most of the patrons had departed, a calm swept over the store. Our district manager bought us all drinks from the cafe, so I scored a second Snapple Rain, but that was little compensation for the fact that none of us had gotten dinner breaks.

After the refreshment, I finished cleaning up the magazine section by myself as the rest of the crew hoped and waited for the DM to leave. She didn't. She wasn't going to leave until she had all the numbers for the other stores in her district.

Regaining some motivation, Dante and I then picked up the most dreaded part of the store: the kids' section, while Brandi vacuumed obstinate piles of sparkles from the hat design area and everywhere else they were tracked. Our lurking patrons left, we locked the doors, and I clocked out at twenty to two.

At least I didn't have to be back in the morning like some other folks. Two days off in a row was going to be a real treat.

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