CHICAGO - Little kids ripping pages out of pop-up books before putting them back on the shelf. Not-so-sly customers buying books, reading them and then bringing them back — like at a library.
Rebecca George has become accustomed to such irritations as a co-owner of Volumes Bookcafe, an independent bookstore with shops in Wicker Park and downtown.
But those didn’t drive George, 42, to post a gripe on Twitter, a tweet that had generated 5.3 million views as of Tuesday evening.
She started typing after a customer spent about $800 on art books in the crucial Christmas shopping season and then, this week, said she wanted to return them all.
"Turns out one of our biggest sales last month was for the person to stage their home for the holidays, and now they want to return them all. Please don’t do this to a small business, people. … ." George tweeted Monday.
Margins in the independent bookshop world are "razor thin," George said. Predicting what people might want to buy is often a high-stakes guessing game, she said.
George, and her sister, Kimberly, recently moved their Wicker Park store into a new location in the same neighborhood, opening last September. She said they were grateful that 25 members of the local community kicked in with loans to help buy the space.
"Even after opening, we were still paying electricians and plumbers and all the things to open, on top of now paying for a mortgage," George said. "The fall was tough. We knew we just needed to get through the holidays, and then we’d feel more secure."
The pandemic lockdown didn’t help business either, she said.
The woman’s purchase in early December at the downtown branch was big enough to excite staff.
"Wow, this person came in and bought up all these art books! What a great day," George remembered thinking. "We needed it right then."
George said a member of her staff got a call from the book buyer on Monday. The customer said she wanted to return all of the books. Book returns are rare — about 1% of sales, George said. It’s usually someone who might have received two copies of the same book as a gift, she said.
George said she’s not entirely sure what "staging" the woman wanted the books for.
"They could have gotten books in a different way if that were the case. They could have gotten used books or library books," George said.
Here’s a sampling of what some Twitter users had to say:
"This is such a gross thing to do regardless, but absolutely never do that to a small business," wrote @TareUhhhhhh.
"Please tell me why the f—k are people ‘staging their homes’ for the holidays?" wrote @minimoogles.
"This year, I don’t care what you get me but I want my bday gift from here please," wrote @Uh_huh_honey.
Unfortunately for the customer, she called a few days after the 30-day return period had expired. After "much negotiation," the bookshop and the customer agreed on a store credit, George said.
On the plus side, George said, "We’ve been getting tons and tons of orders overnight from all over the U.S., and we are so thankful for it."
George said she’s sure it’s a result of her tweet.
"For the most part, our customers are amazing," she said.