It’s in the bag…or is it?


I work in the best kind of retail situation, a small, independent bookstore situated next to a cafe whose great coffee and scones (maple scones with drippy maple icing) test my will every time I work. Enticing smells waft around us all day long.Usually, they are sauteeing garlic and this my new trick to entertaining. I will saute garlic 2 minutes prior to the guest’s arrival time. Even if we are having frozen pizza or my latest efforts fail, the brain will think differently.

But anyway.

Part of our customer service routine involves asking questions. How can I help you? Would you like to join our frequent buyer’s club? Would you like to be informed of any upcoming events? Would you care for a bag today?

That last question seems so innocent. Ever since I can remember learning the art of persuasion (high school English, though we were far from artful in our early attempts), the environment has been part of a nation-wide debate. For most of my adult life, one tiny answer to helping thwart some environmental issues is dealing with the ubiquitous bags.

To that end, we always ask because people in our neck of the woods feel pretty strongly about bags. They carry backpacks, book bags, recycled store bags, or simply use their naked little hands. 85% of our customers don’t use bags. We have one customer who, upon her first purchase in our new location, took one of our cheery paper bags with a twine handle and has carried it in with her for every purchase since. I always ask how it’s holding up. I will give her another bag when the time comes. We are that kind of business. We give our customers bags if they would like them.

I hit a little snag in this operation for the first time yesterday. A woman was making the purchase of one handmade card that was enclosed in a plastic sleeve to prevent fingerprints from destroying it. So….I asked my usual questions to which this woman replied, “Well, why wouldn’t I? Are bags expensive for you?”

Um…forget to put on your nice-girl pants today, did you?
No. I did not say that. What I said was, “Many of our customers carry their own bags or prefer not to take one.”

“Who has ever heard such a thing?”

Um…environment, environment, environment. Reduce, reuse, recylce? I am sure I could rattle off some tree and plastic statistics if she gave me a minute. Miss I-forgot-my-nice-girl-pants appears to have been around a bit longer than me so where has she been?

In my polite, the customer is always right (except in this instance) manner I said, “I do believe some people just don’t want to accumulate bags. In they end, people feel it may save some trees. We always ask. I am happy to give you a bag.”

“Well, hurry up with this nonsense. I have a taxi, can’t you see?”

Um, no. I do not face a window nor police the transportation systems of our customers. My now-fuming brain has prevented the rote operation of the cash register from running smoothly and, of course, she wants me to count her change from the five dollar bill. Twice. Doesn’t she have a taxi?

“You remember, now, next time. I like bags.”

Ha, I thought. I don’t like bags! And I mean that pun with every mean girl, naughty bone in my body.

But I smiled and said my usual closing. “I will. Thank you for coming. Have a nice day.”

There is the popular belief that what you put out into the world comes back to you. Was this some sort of payback? Or should Miss Enviromental be a bit concerned for her future? I won’t know so I better keep on the nice-girl pants and work on my nice-girl brain so that one doesn’t betray the other. I think I got lucky this time.