Thursday, January 10, 2008

Out with the Cappuccino, In with the Mountain Dew

(Imagine a picture of an awesome climbing wall here. Sorry, I misplaced the proper photo credit for this picture, and until I find it, I'm taking it down.)

If you didn't make it all the way through the comments for my Monday post, you may wonder why there's a picture of a climbing wall posted above. It's because we going to be talking bookstore design for boys. To quote Mac, "if shopping for boy books feels like hanging out in the women's fashion floor of the department store, we'll mow the grass in freezing weather in socks and shorts first." So what would a boy-centric bookstore look like? Would it have a climbing wall?

Assuming a bookstore was well stocked with great titles---and I mean piles and piles of well-chosen reads, everything from the expected to the off-beat---what else would make boys, teen boys in particular, want to hang out there?

Here are some of the answers I received from the men in my life, and as a woman, I'm honestly not sure which of these are real suggestions and which were designed to yank my chain or make me laugh. Feel free to add your own ideas!

  • Hooters-type sales clerks (They had better be kidding about this one. But I see the point. The store can't be so boy-centric that no hot girls will hang out there. Especially hot, smart girls who like to read the same books they do.)
  • No elevator music (only LOUD, current tracks or classic rock that's fresh again. As long as it's not soothing in any way.)
  • Climbing wall (because there can never be enough opportunities to fall)
  • More computers (I want this, too. Why can't I look up that book title I can't remember or find on-line reviews or read book blogs in the store? In fact, why not give each customer a gadget that when swiped along the spine of any book, gives info about it, including feedback from other readers? Yeah, and make it have a cool map, too, where the book you're looking for flashes when you get near it. Shades of M.T. Anderson's novel, feed, in a good way.)
  • Quiznos (This was a biggie. Get rid of the coffee and the nibbles. Serve giant sandwiches and Mountain Dew.)

Then my son sagely said: you can't make a bookstore that only appeals to teenage boys. So right. But I love imagining it. The aisle devoted to Calvin and Hobbes would definitely have a few grocery carts lying around...*

*Calvin and Hobbes, Oct 18, 1991.


  1. Okay. I think the boys are on to some things:

    Climbing walls would be an awesome addition to the bookstore.

    More computers are good.

    Better food and Mountain Dew (Yuck!) would be good as well. I sometimes get sick of bookstore/coffeehouse food too and wish there were heartier options available.

    But a big no to the Hooters girls and the loud music. I vote for NO MUSIC AT ALL!!

  2. Climbing walls - yes! There should be myriad opportunities to fall and impress the Hooter girl (and Hunky Boy) checkers. (I'm all for discrimination based on appearance if it's going to be equal and for all tastes. Of course, then it's not really discrimination anymore, is it?)

    Computers -- double yes -- I hate that you can look up things in a library -- where they are, what they're about, etc., but can't do that when you're about to spend money. How dumb is that?

    And I have to agree - the music might be a major distraction. But then, handing out headsets so everyone could thrash to their own tunes and/or listen to a bookstore sponsored bestseller descriptions list and/or audio book - good fun. You could do that whilst you were eating your ginormous sandwich and drinking your nasty Irn Bru (which is the Scots version of Mtn. Dew - only more foul), otherwise I'm not sure how huge sandwiches could go with books - unless the "you smear it, you buy it" rule is in effect, and who wants to be in charge of that? Much better to have a magazines and audio books only rule in the Quiznos shop.

    You may think this is just for fun, but don't forget you brainacs came up with a YA blogger's conference out of a dream potluck post. I think y'all should keep thinking/talking, because I for one am sick of people bemoaning how boys don't read, and offering to do "Sweet Fanny Adams" (another UK-ism -- ha!) about it.


    I suppose I can make an exception for the boys of the world.

    Maybe we can have both Quiznos and cappuccinos.

    I think we're on to something big, and you can say it all started here. Let's keep brainstorming. I think David Elzey was really on to something with his comments from your first post -- of course, that's what Scieszka has been saying all along. There aren't enough male teacher and librarian role models -- too many female librarians pushing Jacob Have I Loved.

    But I'm getting away from bookstores again.

    Jules, 7-Imp, typing this as that Michael Stipe furry-sobbing-monsters-shiny-happy-monsters thing, which you sent to 7-Imp before for our kicks list, is playing on Sesame Street

  4. Jules, I ADORE Jacob Have I Loved, and coffee, so I'm totally handicapped. :)

    TadMack, love the headset idea. Kelly would love it, too! And the idea of audio books in the sub shop.

    BTW, my local indie, Politics and Prose, doesn't have a climbing wall, but they do have awesome sandwiches.

  5. I love the idea that a bookstore could be different - really in almost any way at all - since they are all about the same.

    Climbing wall? Sure. Hearty food? Yeah. Computers around? OH, YEAH.

    But no music, that's what iPod's are for.

  6. There should be monkey bars too.

    I wrote a short story titled, "How to Read Upside Down." This was meant for boys who don't know how to pick up a book and turn on their imaginations. Monkey bars would help - my nine year-old son would agree!

    When you open your first boy-savy bookstore - let me know! I will be there with my climbing clothes on!!

  7. At Gulliver's Books, the indy where I worked in Fairbanks, we had a sandwich shop that served espresso, baked goods and made sandwiches. So yes, you can have the best of both worlds. (We also had a bunch of cold drinks - no sodas, but bottled stuff that everyone enjoyed.)

    As for music we had a CD player and the staff got to pick what they wanted. We did local stuff - which up there is folk/rock and we played a lot of blues and New Orleans jazz. I remember that the Aretha Franklin box set was very popular.

    You have to have music or the quiet is deafening - it is actually an uncomfortable distraction when the store is TOO quiet.

  8. Can you believe I've never read it, Sara? For shame.

    Jules, 7-Imp

  9. Climbing walls. Definitely. My son would be all over it. Make it so you have to climb to get to the books. That would make it fun!

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  11. Yes, many of these things make for great fantasy bookstores but if they really existed they'd go out of business PDQ.

    A climbing wall? Without charging an admission fee, how would a store be able to pay off the liability insurance?

    Computers? Yeah, I see what happens when a bunch of boys huddle around the computers at the library -- suddenly you have new noise ordinances, and content monitors, and damaged stations and, eventually, no boys hanging around because they can't do what they want... and it doesn't make them want to read.

    What we're doing here sound like we're trying to add books to a rec center, which is all fine but I'm not sure it fulfills the purpose: to get boys to read. Since I don't want to harsh the buzz here I ought to offer up some suggestions of my own.

    Location: A large underground lair with lots of warm lighting. The idea is to move toward the basement/garage setting boys like to lurk in, but to keep it bright enough to read and hang out. And it needs to be large to accommodate not only books and a cafe but plenty of comfy couches and beanbag chairs.

    Ambiance: There will be music, but it will neither be loud nor soothing. Think about how a party can be ruined by loud or aggressive music just as easily as it can seem boring with wimpy jazz. It's a tricky balance, to be decided by a collective, and maybe an occasional nightly DJ night spinning tunes to fit the thematic mood of a particular book or genre. Like imagined soundtracks/playlists for particular books.

    Decor and book selection: Naturally the owner(s) of such a place would make all primary decisions but an open collective of customers would meet on a regular basis to make, plan and implement decisions about how to decorate and what to stock. You build a community and they will come to see themselves as empowered caretakers. They'll drag in their friends. Outreach with local schools should be directed at boys and parents should be invited to *not* attend. You think boys are going to be themselves with their parents around?

    BTW, you want to sell books to boys you need to be prepared to sell a lot of what is normally considered adult content. Not porn, but technical manuals for hacking electronic devices, non-fiction sports bios and adventure stories, LOTS of graphic novels, and a fair amount of bathroom humor. The humor might not sell, but if it gets a bunch of boys standing around reading jokes to one another you've at least got them comfortable with the idea of hanging out in a bookstore.

    Programs: Author events, naturally, but what about book talks by athletes, politicians, noted professionals who aren't there to promote themselves but to promote a book they believe in? Pull a local celebrity boys know and care about and invite them to do a short talk and Q&A about a particular book. Beats a poster in the library showing Someone Famous stiffly holding an obvious book and trying to make it sell as cool to read.

    If near a high school, have "lunch specials" where books are on sale only during that time w/ ID. Be sure you have made contact with the teachers at the school to know what sort of books they're using or recommending in classes and to use them to get the word out that they can get their books there cheaper. Get them into the habit.

    Staff: They need to be mixed in age and gender. That's a hard thing, but the idea is to get them used to both coming to a bookstore AND being comfortable around sales people of all stripes. They'll need to know their stuff, stay on top of trends as well as books, and have a good rapport with teens, teen boys, and the parents who don't understand them. Missionary saints with a zeal for getting boys to read.

    You'll also need at least a handful of teens on staff (weekend shifts) to give the place cred and bring in business. If a kid won't work there why would a kid want to visit it?

    Other ideas: Custom merchandise, designed by teenage customers. Small things like limited edition buttons, chap books and mini comics, stickers for their skateboards, and so on. The more sarcastic and/or edgy the better. Gets the word out cheap, and if they're involved so much he better.

    Provide "personal shopper" service for boys to help them purchase books for family members. They might know their parents or sibling like books but haven't a clue what to get them. Offer the service year-round for birthdays and whatnot but especially around the holidays when they need something, want to make a "good" choice and might need the extra hand holding. If they know it's there, and they see that it works, they'll come back for themselves later.

    That's all got off the top of my head. I think in the end the retail environment needs to emphasize that books are part of the community, a community they can claim for themselves. Sure, if boys find a cool store to hang out in they might not be purchasing much, but when they do (or need to) they know where to go. Eventually they'll be lounged on a bean bag chair with friends and a book will catch their eye. They'll read a bit of it, put it back on the shelf, come back a few days later on their own and read some more, maybe even buy it.

    One book. Sometimes that's all it takes.

  12. Yeah, I hear you, David. This IS a fantasy. In contrast, your suggestions are too good to let float around cyberspace. Love the "lunch specials" and the custom merchandise and the DJ nights. You got a name for this fabulous hangout?

    And I agree with you on the one book. Did you read the story about the policemen in Mexico reading One Hundred Days of Solitude in police code?

  13. Well, if someone wants to run with it (and they'll give me credit, in-store credit for life would work) I had two versions of the same name. Beau Claire (French: Beautiful, Clear) and it's phonetic equivelant: The Book Lair.

    Actually, those are for the teen-only store which would have to include a whole section on vampire books for girls, and not the one boys would be caught dead in. Boys say: Lame!

    On the side of something more in the evangelical nature of "converting' boys to readers I thought The Pulp Pit (pulpit) which gives it a den-like name wrapped in a pun (boys like puns). Or for those up on their Lennon lyrics Spinal Crackers, though I suspect that could get taken the wrong way.

    Names are funny because the right one carries itself beyond the physical. Name the store with a verb and you get all kinds of use out of it; say calling the store Ripped. Stickers that say Get Ripped (books) or guys going "I'll meet you at Ripped"... I think that's solid. I remember reading that Steve Jobs of Apple had a hard time getting the music industry initially to sign on to iTunes because they didn't know what it meant to rip a song; they thought it meant they were getting ripped off. And everyone knows what a rip it is when your parents ground you.

    I'm just riffing here, spitballing if you will.

    Whatever name it gets, the place has to sound cool before it even opens. Just like a book title. Sorry for taking so much space in your comments, but I appreciate your kind indulgence.

  14. Dude, David is some kind of genius. Clearly he's been thinking about this a little... :) What great ideas.

    I want to point out that guys usually have few problems hanging out in comic book stores (I know this from personal experience as one of the few girls who would even enter the comic store--though it's less male-dominated these days). Maybe one could model a guy-oriented bookstore after a comic store, while also trying to make it somewhat less geeky?

    I keep thinking of one of the comic stores in my town, Krier's, which also sells gaming supplies, baseball/sports cards, and an array of junk food snacks (a key asset). It also has a number of tables and benches set up because they hold events like Magic tournaments and gaming extravanganzas and the like. Certain times of the evening and weekends, it's crammed with mostly boys.

    All of which speaks to David's point that boys sometimes need a reason to hang out there with their friends and NOT with parents; OR they want to be able to go in, get what they need, and get out...(that's the way I usually am with shopping, so I can relate!)

  15. I am sure that I rode in grocery carts as a little child, but most of the time, I was happier when out of the car, dancing through the aisles, jumping from tile to tile, making patterns, making noise.

    I rode in a grocery cart again one memorable afternoon as a teenager.

  16. I love the computer idea. Love the notion of doing a swipe and finding out everything I need to know about a book.

    Please go do that one. I'm sure we'll all chip in.

  17. LOTS of water fountains. And something bouncy like little trampolines so they can jump and read.

  18. LOTS of water fountains. And something bouncy like little trampolines so they can jump and read.

  19. I just stayed up until I finished writing a short piece about my grocery cart memory.

    Thank you.


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