I've been trying to think of a crazy-popular counter book from that time. I think Meditations for Women who do Too Much comes closest. Alas, the jacket's changed several times over the years. This is not the face that launched a million busy women into confronting their exhaustion, but it's close enough.
Then we got a nonbook buyer, part-time at first. Later, full. Suddenly the front counter was in play. The books disappeared, and because of the configuration of the store (an L-shape that wrapped around the Iron Block lobby and elevators made our aisles relatively narrow, and after all, space was at a premium downtown, and bargain book tables took the premium table locations), there was no place else to put them.
Fast forward many years. I think we have a happy medium. Sidelines are on the counter, but we have two great new and noteworthy paperback tables (that folks love to browse, and they sell a lot of books, and we get compliments on. Good job, Jason!) and one impulse table near our higher-volume register (per another post, that would be F; it's the one to the right as you come in.)
We're doing very well with these thumb puppets, for example. They come from lots of different vendors (seemingly all made in the same factory in China) at lots of different price points. They are currently at the slower-moving M register. Imagine if I moved them to F!
The impulse table, on the other hand, is filled with what were counter books at the old Iron Block, though we were never clever enough to put Richard Scarry's I am a Bunny there. As mentioned previously, that is probably one of our more successful titles at the counter.
But on a recent bookstore jaunt, I saw another option. That store--and it's a wonderful store, so I'll mention it--Brookline Booksmith, switches it out. Their cashier counter is filled with books, but the sidelines are sort of in a place that is a combination of our impulse table and one of our new paperback tables. It's my thought that the closer you are to the counter, the less time you use to make a decision. And since a register transactions are so much quicker than they were in the past (almost no checks, very quick credit card interactions), who has a chance to browse a book when they are up there. It's while you're waiting. Whereas a bookmark, pen, key capper or robot? You need less time to make up your mind.
But here's the difference with this store. It's really busy! So lots of folks are waiting in line, looking for diversion.
Oh, and one caveat. It's often the person next to the person making the transaction who buys off the counter--the partner, the friend, the kid--so in that way, quicker transactions hurt the counter. Maybe once folks are waiting to be helped, we'll want more impulse purchase options while folks are in line. We might even configure the line method--bank or supermarket style? I've got opinions. And that would be another post.