Scared at the Bookstore
I was working at the Barnes & Noble in Hyde Park (Cincinnati) when we heard about a robbery at a B&N in Indiana. It was around the year 2001 and in those days, a manager would come in about 5 or 6 in the morning, alone. They would turn on the lights, do the money… About an hour later, the shelvers showed up and spent one or two hours shelving before the store opened to the public. I remember how terrified I was coming in all by myself that early, especially when it was winter and dark outside. I was a sitting duck.
The worst thing about it was having to walk all the way through the unlit store and into the pitch black backroom to the breakers where the light switches were. I can’t tell you how many times I would sit in my truck staring at the entrance trying to get up the courage to go in.
And this was before learning about that robbery.
From what I remember, a manager was arriving at the Indiana B&N like any other day when a man jumped out from behind a pillar with a gun and forced her inside where he tied her up, robbed her, and left her in the cash room. Alive but still. Many stores changed their policies after that but these days B&N’s hours are pinched so the manager only gets one hour to count the money and arrives with the shelvers anyway.
It was around 2001 when I was trying to catch my nemesis: The Newspaper Thief. I had made it my life’s goal to catch the asshole who would steal one Cincinnati Enquirer and one New York Times each morning. He always (I assumed it was a “he” for some reason) managed to find that sweet time spot between the newspaper companies dropping off the stacks of tied up papers and the manager’s arrival. He even brought a cutting instrument to break the twine and take his two newspapers. It was really starting to piss me off.
I began to come in earlier just to crouch down at the front windows where I was mostly hidden by the pillars. I’m not sure what my master plan was if I did catch him. Those were the days without cell phone cameras. Turns out, he never showed up when I arrived early. It was like he knew I was there. I interviewed stores in our area. “Have you seen a suspicious person around our newspapers in the early morning hours?” Nothing. I never caught him. After that Indiana robbery I stopped trying because it had never occurred to me how dangerous it might be for five foot, 90 pound me to pop out and yell, “aha!”
The store closed in 2004 so he probably had to start stealing his morning papers from our rival, Joseph-Beth.
I guess I’m leading you to the day I was such an idiot that my life and my co-worker’s life really were in danger. It’s a couple of years ago and I’m opening up the store with the Cafe Manager, Karen. We go in and right away I hear the alarm by the front door beep beep beeping. In a way we had never heard it beep before. I shut it off and we looked at the darkened store in front of us. After you’ve worked in a bookstore for so long, it starts to feel like a second home so we had no fear at all. As we walked towards the break rooms we stopped because there was another sound.
There was a buzzing coming from the receiving room where the boxes are unloaded and opened and our overstock is kept on second story high rows of book shelves.
Now, a smart person would run back out the front door and maybe call a police officer to go with us to the vast and creepy receiving room but no. Like those chicks in horror movies we looked at one another and shrugged before walking back there with all the confidence in the world. I turned on the lights, allowing us to see that it was the back door alarm buzzing like it was low on batteries. Then we noticed that the door was open and the marks of a crowbar were on the edges.
There was also a nice little note from a police officer who checked out the alarm at five in the morning and did a sweep through the store and found nothing, leaving that damn backdoor open so the intruder could come marching back in. Karen and I stumbled over one another to get to the front of the store.
The time was what scared us the most. The staff had recently been doing inventory and changes until about five in the morning. Many people in the area knew this, leading us to believe the intruder(s) were trying to get in with booksellers inside. Why? We don’t want to know.
Officers came back, reports were made but none of my higher ups seemed that concerned. Those officers that swept the place in the morning hadn’t even called one of us managers to report it. WTF. Because I think I’m Nancy Drew, I walked to the tech store next to us on my break. Surely, they had video cameras in the back alley? Yep. They were NASA quality, too. It was surreal sitting down with the tech store manager and rewinding to the time the intruders tried to break in. Like those horror movies with b/w video cameras filming you sleeping at night and then something shows up in the corner of the screen. Sure enough, we watch two lights from a small car come around the bend of the isolated alley and then turn off as they got closer to my store’s back door. As good as the cameras were, we couldn’t see anyone in the vehicle. Just a shadowy figure moving off screen towards our door and then the moment when that obnoxious alarm went off and he fled, tearing off down the other side of the alley.
I was so proud of myself. Surely, we would catch them now, right? I told my boss who went next door to get the video and send it to the authorities. The bad guys were never identified and I huffed and puffed about it for a long time. After all, these intruders could have been lying in wait in the back room and attacked Karen and I. Does no one care?
I want to assure you that these are isolated incidents. Barnes & Noble is a very safe place. Usually paper cuts are the only guaranteed hazard of working in the bookselling industry.
Header photo property of Columbia Pictures.
UPDATE 8/30/17 I have just learned of the deadly shooting at the Clovis, New Mexico library. It was insensitive of me to post this article during a time like this. I have changed the name of the article. Contact the Clovis-Carter Public Library to donate HERE.