Dear Powell’s Books:
Posted on March 25th, 2011
Dear Powell’s Books:
I’m breaking up with you over a bathroom. It’s true.
You won’t notice. You’re Powell’s Books. I’m just me, an unemployed lawyer with a three-year-old in tow. I drop a lot of money (for me) in your store, but I understand I’m just a thousandth of a percent of a thousandth of a percent of your bottom line, even in my spendiest year.
But I’ve been very fond of you. You’re where I’ve bought my collection of naval history books, my favorite scholarly books about Jane Austen, my best history of science books. I bought my pregnancy and child development books at your stores. And even when I wanted to buy a new book on my Kindle, I’d faithfully check to see if you had it at a reasonable price first. (Sadly, this isn’t often the case.)
You’re a half mile from my home. We play at the park near your store. We eat at the restaurants near your store. The first live fiddle music my daughter ever heard was a street musician playing by the door at NW 11th & Couch. The point is that we go into your store when we are nearby, and this is often. When I need alone time, I usually walk up to your store and lose myself for a while (although I do seem to be losing the art of the slow browse, post-child).
And there’s an emotional component. My child learned how to climb ladders in your store and still labors under the mistaken impression you are a library. (Isn’t that rich?) We’ve played plenty of hide-and-seek in the Purple Room. My child can navigate your stores better than I can, without resorting to an app. She knows to put her books on the shelf by the door before using the restroom. (Today, she tried to put her plastic fish there.) And oh, has she used your aisles for flirting!
While employee attitudes often sucked (with some occasional charming exceptions), I chalked that up to worker/management issues and a weird us vs. them vibe.*
But here it is: the bathroom thing.
Today, after lunch, P and I went to the technical bookstore and all was going well enough until P announced she had to go potty. I went to the back, looked for a bathroom, found none, and asked an employee. “No,” he said, and he might have been a snot about it. “You have to go across the street to the main building and up to the Purple Room.”
I said, “You’re kidding.”
To non-locals, this means you have to go outside, cross the street, walk up a block, dodge the knot of panhandlers and the tourists by the front door, go inside, walk through the store, up a flight of stairs, and then make a hard left to the ladies’ room…
…and get in line to wait five minutes for a free stall in a foul-smelling restroom. Also, did I mention it was the three-year-old who needed to go potty?
The good news was that she held it. The bad news was that was it. I was just…done. I’m tired of the attitude, of the only-good-online coupons,** and of dodging the Greenpeace workers, ballot measure people, and panhandlers just to get in the door. I realize I don’t have a lot of money to drop in the store, but I’ve reached the point where I’d rather drop it into some anonymous online retailer than a local store where I’m treated poorly.
Maybe this all seems silly to someone without children. And no, it’s not all about the bathroom, not really. (But if she hadn’t made it without an accident, it would have been.) But – yeah. Done.
Good luck, Powell’s. There are lots of other people who still spend money with you. I’ll still send tourist friends your way. As for us? Well. I doubt you’ll miss us.
*Which is totally lame. If nothing else, I honored the picket line even when I had a $50 gift card burning a hole in my pocket.
**I know you can shop online and pick up your books locally and use the coupons that way. But if I’m buying books online, I’d rather have the wider selection and better prices of Amazon & Abe Books.
UPDATE: I never did hear anything else from Powell’s, aside from the comment below. I’ve now made it eight days without buying anything there! This has to be a new record for me, especially since P and I spend so much time in the nearby park. Maybe it’ll be like quitting smoking, which involved three days of crying (I went cold turkey when I was 19) and then some lingering pangs – and then you turn around and 18 years have passed.