If books are for tasting, as Francis Bacon suggested, it stands to reason that, in at least a couple of respects, bookstores resemble restaurants: Franchises offer discounts and quick consuming, while independents provide quality and an atmospheric graze.
But what about service? In the interest of fruitful book-shopping, we recently sampled three independent local bookstores and three chains to size up the help. Always leaning to the scientific method, we asked standard questions and attempted a standard degree of finicky-customer demeanor.
Independents: Modest store proportions allow easy access to personnel, unless concealed by picturesque but labyrinthine and probably hazardous book stacks; employees often preoccupied with phone orders, inventories or loud, dynamic cultural analyses, e.g. the merits of Vincent Price's fly impersonation vs. Jeff Goldblum's.
Chains: Much airier dimensions and elevated service counter ensure that staff is always within eyeshot, if not easy walking distance; service style varies from inability to interact without electronic mediation to attentiveness and politesse of Chinese waiters.