Wilfrid M. de Freitas - Bookseller

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Book Fairs 101
A How-to Handbook for Book Fair Exhibitors

By Susan Ravdin

Part 8
It Can Happen to You

I hate to break the news to you, but thieves do come to book fairs. And those that do are slick, patient, careful and very, very good at what they do. So be advised. In twenty-five years, and about 500 fairs, there have been several thefts — they're not frequent, but often enough to be a concern. Most often they are book thieves, but there have also been thefts of cash boxes/pouches and of personal belongings. I'll try to advise you on how to avoid being a victim.

First of all, know your stock

Be familiar with what you've brought, how you've arranged it and what was placed where. A gap on the shelf or the table should put you on the alert. Of course it might just be a case of someone picking up their catalogues/packages and accidentally taking a book of yours with them - this happens surprisingly often - or it might be a theft. Approach the person carefully assuming the former, and before s/he's left the booth if possible ("Oops, I think you accidentally got one of my books mixed in with your bags!"); you'll probably be able to tell which is the case, and if the latter, immediately tell the organizer so security can keep a watchful eye on him/her.

Use the show's security precautions

If you're at a show that asks you to seal all bags so that they can be checked on the way out, do it. The precautions benefit us all, do not greatly inconvenience the customers (especially if explained), and do reduce theft. Two shows that did not check bags in the past, implemented the measures after thefts, and the losses have not been repeated - of course it took some persuading because of the extra expenses incurred by the promoters, but the possibility of loosing exhibitors quickly convinced them.

Be vigilant

One of your best defences is to keep a careful eye on things and to let the public know that they are being monitored. This needn't be done overtly, just be seen to be attentive. Get up and move around if you can't see your tables, glance frequently around your booth, acknowledge a person's presence so s/he knows you're paying attention, neaten your stock so you can tell everything's where it belongs. Most of all, use common sense when something seems odd.

Secure your valuables

As I mentioned above, cash boxes or pouches have been stolen (see "The tag-team" below) and more than one colleague has had her purse or his wallet stolen from under the table, so it's always wise to assess your vulnerabilities. Is the booth against a wall or is there an open space behind it where people can wander unnoticed? What area under the table is easiest to get at? Hardest? Is your cash box/pouch secured? We have taken to tying anything valuable to a chair or table leg, or even to our persons, depending on the fair and the set-up. Some people put all cash in fanny-packs (though it does ruin the look of a nice outfit); one locks larger bills in a cash box glued to a tray table, another puts all extra cash in his breast pocket. Think about how you handle your money, and how you can make it most difficult to carry away.

Know that however watchful you are a thief can still pull one over on you

I once watched a thief who was so slick that I actually saw him steal a book without realizing what I was seeing. He picked a moderately expensive first edition up off the table where it had been lying flat, examined it carefully, and kept it in his hand as though he'd decided to buy it. He turned towards a bookcase, and I half-saw his right hand move some books around on the table (closing up the gap). He put the book down, examined several more books, picked it up again and moved along the table. He cooly spent several more minutes in the booth, then turned and left. I, as I usually do in such cases, immediately got up to locate the book, assuming he'd changed his mind about it and had put it down somewhere else. But it was nowhere to be found. By the time I'd realized what had happened, he was heading for the exit. So be aware of even small changes in the shelf or table arrangement.

A table display before a theft ...

... and after. What's missing?

Opportunists are out there

Some crooks just take advantage of the moment. One case I know of involved a colleague who turned his back on his booth to talk to a neighbour. During those few minutes someone lifted open the unlocked glass case and took one of the books. The thief couldn't have known he'd have the chance, but when it presented itself, he took it! These are the hardest thieves to defend against, especially if you're alone. So if you do have to turn away from your booth, lock your cases and ask someone else to watch it for you; we often help out in these cases as there are two of us.

The tag-team

Crooks working in teams are the most formidable. They're likely to surveil the show and select their victim carefully. You'll never know they're a team, though, as they use a distract-and-act technique. A team might be watching — they'll know where you keep the cash, and how you handle it. In one case such a team made their move in the last half hour of the fair, when we were all tired and less alert, and so they could maximize their return. While a dealer helped an unrelated customer, a thief distracted the his partner by asking to see an expensive item in the glass case. The partner went to help, while the dealer finished what he was doing and returned to their seats. Little did they know that in the blink of an eye between her getting up and his returning, a second thief had calmly reached down, taken their cash pouch and walked out of the fair. The first thief then thanked them for their help and followed along. It was only moments before they discovered their loss, but too late. The worst and most aggravating part of the theft, though, even beyond the loss of cash and feeling foolish and incompetent, was the loss of the receipt book they had put into the pouch in preparation for the pack-out, and of all the critical inventory/sales information it contained.

Let's assume the worst has happened, and something has been stolen.
What do you do?

First thing is inform the promoter so that s/he can alert staff and security to be on the lookout. If you have an inkling of who was responsible (as I did with my slick thief) look around to see if s/he's still in the room and point her/him out. Talk to those around you, let them know what's happened so they can be on the alert, after all thieves have been caught when they tried for a second score. And, don't forget to call the police, especially if you intend to file a claim as the insurance company will require a police report.

Understand that you may never see your stock again - recoveries have been made, but don't count on it. Still, if it is a valuable or identifiable item be sure to report it to the ILAB stolen book database at Stolen-book.org; any member of your country's national Association (e.g. ABAC, ABAA, ABA, etc.) can help. This database will alert the international bookselling community of your loss, and is one of the best tools available for identifying and recovering missing items. Although there's little point reporting a first edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as there were thousands and thousands printed, one that was inscribed and dated by the author would be notable enough to make the database useful in recovering it.

Let's just hope it never happens to you!

Next up "It all has to be packed ..."

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Wilfrid M. de Freitas - Bookseller
P.O. Box 232, Westmount Station
Westmount (Montreal), Quebec, Canada H3Z 2T2
Tel: (514) 935-9581
E-mail: Wilfrid@deFreitasBooks.com

Last updated: 04/02/2017
Site maintained by Susan Ravdin