I thought closing Miss Prothero's Books would be simple. I would just walk out and close the door. I didn't know the door I would walk out of would be the door of an airplane flying at 10,000 feet.
As I was falling, I had to remind myself that it took me two years to open the store, two years to make it cozy. I was only taking two months to get it closed and turn it back into the empty shell that it once was.
Who can control a descent? I thought I could.
I began by cherry picking books from the shelf. I told myself that they had to be in fine to very fine condition. They had to be hardback, something I'd read and admired or something I wanted to read and admire. Dilettantes do not make good cherry pickers. They want to read and admire everything. They want to save it all, keep it all -- that paperback about dogs who know when their people are coming home, that law book on Dickens.
Next, I contacted those with store credit. All but one of the creditees responded. At the top of the list was Ron Chidester, an electrician-painter-filmmaker-father-grandfather-genius?-sweetheart-storyteller. When Ron came through the door, I could usually count on an hour in conversation, sometimes more. Because he came in three times to redeem his credit, that was 3-plus hours when I wasn't cherry picking, wasn't deleting books from my inventory file, constructing an advertisement for craigslist or The Post, wasn't deconstructing a bookcase or calling about the credit card machine. (But I don't regret this. Talking to Ron was always fun.)
Telling my book club, writing group, and laughter group was next on my list. I got dumb, numb looks at each meeting. One of the members of the book club suggested they hold the last meeting in the store on August 31. I'm glad I said no.
August 1, the opening night of the Grand Opening Going Out of Business Sale, was the first time I felt as if the buzzards were circling, just waiting for my body to hit the ground hard. We sold most of the bookcases, but not most of the books. Nobody read the signs. Or they read the signs they wanted to read and didn't ask questions. Fiction and poetry was half-off. Sports was $1 per hardback. Folks wanted Hemingway for $1, a book on inner tennis for nothing.
August 1 was the first time I realized that I could no longer control my inventory files. Too much was going out the door too fast. On August 2, I put my online listings on hold.
Then there was the deluge of August 9. It rained and poured that Friday night. It rained and poured through one of my landlord's chimney's and onto my computer equipment. My Powerbook, my printer, my scanner and the keyboard on my iMac were drowned in a sea of ceiling tiles, water and mud. I tried some mouth-to-mouth, but the iMac was the only thing that survived. (What a brave, hearty soul. If Apple ever wants an endorsement, here I am.)
Through all of this, I had much more of the usual -- folks who wanted to give me advice, who wanted to diagnose my failure (duh, I know it was a bad location, but could I afford anywhere else?), and, as always, the daily congregation of drunks. The wall beside Miss P's was just across from the door to Nate's Crown Liquors, one of the cheapest liquor stores in town. Mostly men gathered there to sort out their panhandled change and to make the jaunt for the juice. I called the police, told them to move on, had daily shouting matches, and was sometimes rewarded with a "Yes, ma'am!" and sometimes rewarded with a "F*** you, bitch!"
I was never prepared for the race, poverty, and addiction issues that buzzed outside the store's front door and I don't think I ever will be.
We took down the signs on the 21st, turned the keys in on the 23rd. I am relieved. I've been catching up on accounting and reworking the inventory. (I should be back online by Labor Day.) I've been enjoying the Democratic Convention. I followed Daryl Henline and the Goodnight Bush Choir down the 16th Street Mall, to The Bug, to the Neighborhood Flix Obama Watch party.
I will keep blogging. Because the pressure to promote the store is off, maybe I'll snark, snivel, and complain more. Or maybe I'll finally learn to be positive. I'll talk about other bookstores. (Have you been to Kilgore Books yet? I need to find my way back.) And, goldurnit, I may even learn how to talk about books.
Although I don't think I can keep up with the writing circle, I'm hoping to keep up with the Whodunit Club. I will probably retire Miss P as a business name. (The old girl was too much of an introvert anyway.) I may start operating under the name of Wig's Town Books. Who knows what will happen once I emerge from the cocoon.