Bill Clinton greets hundreds at Barrett Bookstore signing
Shelton resident Charlotte Biercevicz found herself at the front of a line 500-strong Friday morning to meet former President Bill Clinton and get a copy of his new book, “Back to Work.”
“I admire him,” she said, draped in a thick black peacoat protecting her from the mid-40s chill. She stood in front of the glass doors of Barrett Bookstore on Heights Road, as store employees darted between Secret Service agents and plain-clothed Darien Police officers, trying to keep things calm and organized.
Clinton’s publisher, Random House, gave the independently-owned bookstore barely three days notice that Clinton was coming. Barrett owner Sheila Daley said that Clinton’s book sold out Thursday afternoon, two days after his visit was announced.
It seemed as if everyone was nervous. One of Barrett’s employees asked The Darien Times on four separate occasions if it had obtained its press passes. “I’m just making sure,” she said.
Darien Police Officer TJ Whyte manned the door, and he became well-acquainted with those at the front after waiting with them for more than two hours. Second in line was Mary Kelly of Westchester, who took a day off work to meet the man who led the U.S. into the 21st Century.
“This is the sixth time I’ve met him,” Kelly said, noting that she already got her copy of the book and was there to get one for her boss.
Lifetime Darien resident Nanci Natale arrived at 10:15 and was eighth in line. “I usually don’t go to these things, but I like the topic,” she said, referring to Clinton’s plan to put America back to work.
Scores of people asked to get in, but without a voucher, they could merely try their best to catch a glimpse through the front door. Barrett owner Daley said that one man drove up from North Carolina to see Clinton but did not have a voucher to meet him.
Roughly a dozen people from local press outfits waited for their cue to be let inside. Police ushered the queue into Barrett in small groups, ensuring the store maintained some semblance of spatial equilibrium.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson chose to spend her waiting time away from the line. “As far as I’m concerned it’s an exciting day for Darien, particularly for our local merchants,” Stevenson said.
Finally the press were let inside, and led to a roped area roughly 15 feet from the signing station. Clinton stood near an elderly woman in a wheelchair who listened to the former president talk about his book and why it’s important. After letting the press take their photos, he strolled toward the flashing cameras like an old pro, lured by the clicks of shutters and the sight of wind-sheilded microphones and information-hungry journalists.
“The country’s got some problems, but none of them are insoluble,” Clinton said, adding that people told him they came to see him because “they want some hope.”
“I’ve had some Republicans as well as Democrats in the line, and they just want the government to work and they want the economy to work,” Clinton said. “I think they buy the argument I make in this book that they have to work together.”
His book tour was taking him to small, independently-owned bookstores such as Barrett because of how the marketplace has changed book sales.
“Selling books is very different from what it used to be,” he said. “I’m trying to help the independent bookstores... I think for a community having a bookstore like this really adds a lot to the quality of life.”
As the Internet and e-book sales continue to put many bookstores out of business, independent retailers such as Barrett have been forced to evolve to stay salient. “It’s a challenge,” Daley said.
To meet that challenge, Barrett partnered with the American Booksellers Association to offer Google e-books on its website for the Nook, iPad, and other Android-based operating systems. “It hasn’t become a significant part of our business, yet,” Daley said, emphasizing her faith that it will soon change.
Barrett’s e-books sell for the same price as 80% of the books on Amazon, as an agreement between six major publishers set prices on e-books that Amazon cannot undercut, Daley said.
Clinton added that the independent bookstore where he lives, in Chappaqua, N.Y., did not survive the devastation ushered by e-book sales. He also made it a point to purchase at least one item from each of the stores he visited during his tour, he said.
Most patrons visited Barrett on Friday solely for Clinton’s book, Daley noted, although it did give the store added exposure to a larger market. Daley had never met a former or sitting president before.
“He was just fabulous,” she recalled. “He was very personable. It didn’t feel like he was rushed off.”
Many people connected with Clinton on a personal level, Daley said, through knowing a former ambassador or having ties to Clinton’s family.
The Clinton Foundation has been the former Arkansas governor’s primary focus since leaving the White House in 2001. He added that the number one problem facing the country today is childhood obesity.
Having survived quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 and an angioplasty in 2010, Clinton’s experience with a bad diet is as personal as it gets. Clinton has said that he eats a mostly vegan diet, rarely tasting meat, fish or even dairy products. When asked if he’d considered writing a book about that experience, Clinton joked, “That’d probably be my all-time best seller.”
“Back to Work” is Clinton’s fourth book, following “Between Hope and History,” his best-selling memoir “My Life” and “Giving,” a book about social activism and volunteerism. His latest release was published by Knopf Doubleday, a subsidiary of Random House.
“I wrote this book because I love my country and I’m concerned about our future,” begins Clinton in the “Back to Work” introduction. “As I often said... America at its core is an idea — the idea that no matter who you are or where you’re from, if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll have the freedom and opportunity to pursue your own dreams and leave your kids a country where they can chase theirs.”
For 11-year old Darien resident Kathryn Bowen, meeting Clinton was a once in a lifetime experience. “I’ll probably never forget it,” she said.