In a series of interviews conducted by ABC’s Maria Minaya, we’re going to introduce you to (almost) everyone who works at The American Book Centers in Amsterdam and The Hague.
Books form an integral part of our lives not only because they’re our bread and butter, but because our passion for them came first. Our mission is to pass them on. By reading these interviews you’ll discover the faces behind your favorite sections and get a glimpse of who we are.
Where were you born?
I was born in Maarsen, Utrecht which is where my father is from. My mother is a Southern Belle from Brabant. That’s also where we moved to when I was a couple of months old, where I grew up and went to school. I eventually moved to Amsterdam to go to college in my late teens.
What was your favorite food as a kid and what did you hate?
I loved regular, boring Dutch food like potatoes, meat, vegetables, Belgian endive and spinach. I hated sweet peppers, baked beans, cooked carrots and peas. I also didn’t really care for pancakes. I didn’t have a sweet tooth, but preferred to eat a whole bunch of tangerines instead of candy or a piece of pie. I was addicted to Maggi stock cubes, which I would sneak into my room and hide under my bed. I still don’t care for boiled carrots or peas but love all kinds of food. Sushi is a real favorite. I coined a word for the experience of putting that first piece of sushi with wasabi and soy sauce in your mouth: ‘sushigasm’!
Were you read to as a child?
Yes, every night by my mother. I remember her reading Wipneus and Pim. My mother read to me until I was about eight years old. After that I started reading on my own, covering my night lamp to be able to read longer than I was allowed. I almost started a fire once because the cloth started to smolder.
Did you have books in your house while growing up?
We had lots of books at home including books I wasn’t allowed to read until a certain age, but I would change the dustjackets so my mother never knew I was reading them (until I told her years later). I also visited the library once a week and I would beg the library assistant to let me go over to the adult side, as I got bored with the offered selection on the children’s side.
Quick free associations:
Paperbacks: I prefer trade size paperbacks or hardcovers, though mass-market paperbacks are easier to travel with.
Sale: Remainders and books that don’t sell. Great for browsing.
Magazines: I like Vanity Fair and popular science magazines. I also read People and US to keep up with the gossip.
Piano: I can’t play. The piano in the Amsterdam store is part of the history of the building.
Price gun: I can’t work it. I still can’t work the damn thing.
Cash Register: Helping customers.
Discount Card: For customers.
“I’m looking for a book.”: Having it in stock when the customer doesn’t expect it, handing them a copy and watching their face light up is a great feeling.
What is your connection to books and the written word now?
Books are addictive.
What sections do you oversee and what are your other responsibilities at ABC Amsterdam?
I used to be the buyer for Science Fiction and Fantasy, but currently I am the Marketing Director.
What is the best part of your job?
I wear different hats. On the retail floor the best part of my job is sending customers home happy. Seeing new books come in and selling them is also satisfying. As a manager, maintaining a good atmosphere and making sure we do the best job we can for our customers as a team is fun. I like the creative part of marketing and working together to get the ABC feeling out there.
How would you describe your customer service, i.e., how do you do your job in terms of: cars (Ferrari or Fiat?), pastries (Hema or Holtkamp?), or shoes (Puma or Prada)?
I’m not a book snob! I think it’s important that people read, period. I don’t like people who overly criticize certain genres. I like working at ABC because we attract such a broad variety of customers who come to us because we care. I care. Even after all these years, helping customers, sending them home happy, is what I like doing best. Customer service to me means being a good buyer, having the right books in stock, being able to give good advice to customers, helping them find what they’re looking for or just asking them how they’re doing. We have a lot of regulars who sometimes just come in to browse and chat a bit.
How long have you worked at ABC?
Who is your favorite author? Or what are you reading now?
I don’t have an all-time favorite book or author. I read all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction and I’m still discovering great new writers every day. I have a preference, though, for apocalypse stories. I’m interested in what people do when they don’t have a safety net. I was really moved and awed by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
What is the opposite of bookselling?
Not bookselling. I always say I can sell anything, but I prefer to sell books.
What do you think people should know about ABC?
People should know that we listen to what they have to say and that this is reflected in our customer service and the books we shelve. And also that we are a family company, not a franchise chain store. Last but not least, we enjoy and take pride in what we do and hope to be here for a long time to come.