We saw this and wanted to thank Amber personally for writing such a touching letter. Reading some of the off-putting comments such as "I don't need Drums or Shamans" has been rough. But this one made us smile - so thanks again!!
By Amber Elle
February 19, 2009 at 12:36 am permalink
I can comment as a former UM student (late 90’s) and later as a textbook employee on the second floor.
While I was a first-year student, I grumbled at having to go to the Drum as there was always a long line. As years went on, I learned how to avoid the line. However, no one ever wasted my time on the text-book floor. One person could show me where my three classes were shelved, what classes were cross-referenced, they knew what titles were out and when the titles were expected in. Of course there were always better employees than others! But I was always astonished that anyone could keep all those books straight. If you have never seen it, imagine small oddly-sized rooms with textbooks stacked floor to ceiling, with more titles being shelved or re-stocked all the time. I was always quite impressed with the whole chaotic yet orderly vibe of the second floor maze. You really did need your own guide.
Which brings me to my employment at Shaman Drum on the textbook floor. I have never seen a store more committed to their customers. I’ve seen them take back books, at full-return price when the student has already started high-lighting sections when the prof. decided to change out the title. I have seen the managers be so kind and forgiving to prof’s who didn’t bother to place an order till after classes started (in winter semester the weather can delay deliveries for weeks) and then turn around and pay for express shipping. I admit they were not perfect and sometimes they made mistakes too, but usually it was the Drum who would pay in order for the customer to feel satisfied, prof. or student. I know there are more instances, but I remember clear astonishment at what the second floor would take in order to keep a customer satisfied.
I can tell you it is not every business that is so dedicated to customer service. Even in the years after I was an employee, I never felt uncomfortable reading a whole magazine on the first floor. The staff is chill, so as to give us freedom to browse uninterrupted. If people are feeling unwelcome in that store, it comes from within. The store is designed so you can find a little corner and browse the titles you are considering. Forgive them for not being in your face trying to pull questions out of your head. Get over yourselves and don’t blame the store for your own uneasiness.
Last comment is on the local impact this will have, not on the book-buying community, but on the students and locals who have worked there for whatever number of years. I was hired on during book rush, which is 3-5 weeks around the beginning of fall and winter semester. I can only estimate I would be working along side 12-15 people during any given day. I am sure that no less than 40 would be hired on at a fair hourly wage with almost unlimited hours to work in, as the store extended into 12 hour days to get as many people in and out as possible. In thinking back, I have many fond memories of how all the employees would ban together to serve as many people as efficiently as possible. Cleaning up after close and re-stocking books, eating the free bagels and we would all bring in coffee or tea to share.
People would come back into town just to work for a month at Shaman Drum, make bank, then go back to whatever it was they were doing before. The camaraderie was unique to the second floor. You really made some friends if you could make it through the rush. Then, based on your competence as an employee during the rush, and your willingness, they might ask you to stay on after the rush. I even remember getting a holiday bonus at the end of the year from Karl himself. I hadn’t even been working there for 3 months and he gave me the same as everyone else at my level.
I wouldn’t say Karl was my friend, or that I had more respect for him than any other human being, but no one can deny this fact: he helped a great many people by paying them a fair wage to work in his weird store. People shouldn’t be talking about his personal life or what he has done with his profits, they should look at the impact he has had on the local community, regardless of the future of books.