Yale Medical Bookstore manager Donald M. Levy was ringing up three hefty surgery texts when he suggested to the customer, a surgical resident, that he take a look at Zollinger’s Atlas of Surgical Operations.
Levy wasn’t expecting to make a sale: the Atlas costs $199, about what the resident had just spent. Nevertheless, the surgeon opened the book, checked the index and began reading. “This is the operation I had to do yesterday,” he said. “If I’d had this book, I would have been better off.” He bought the book.
Making that sale wasn’t Levy’s primary motive. “I don’t like being sold stuff, myself,” says Levy, a warm, talkative man who remembers customers by name. “There’s a subtle difference between offering and selling.”
Levy has managed the store at 320 Congress Avenue, which is owned by Barnes & Noble, since it opened in October 2001. He came to the medical school campus from the main Barnes & Noble store on Broadway. But before he got into the book business he spent 10 years as a television reporter in upstate New York, Vermont, Ohio and Kentucky.
A complex career path next led him into journalism education at Syracuse University; graduate studies in religion at Yale, where he received a master’s degree in 1992; and a brief tenure running his own company selling out-of-print volumes in philosophy, psychology and religion. When the advent of Internet shopping undermined his sales, he joined Barnes & Noble.
Running the store gives him a chance to draw on his interest in religion and healing. For example, to customers fresh from the doctor’s office he can recommend a mass market book on diabetes or heart disease “You’re kind of being pastoral.” he says. “You show them the section and maybe you ask a few questions.”
The bookstore offers shelf after shelf of review books and primers like Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple and Laughing Your Way to Passing the Pediatrics Boards. Also for sale are medical accessories and necessities, including one big seller, a $16 dissection kit. It contains tweezers, pick, scalpel, scissors and replacement scalpel blades in a box—“all Larry Rizzolo-approved”—a reference to Lawrence J. Rizzolo, Ph.D., one of the directors of the first-year anatomy course. The store also carries tuning forks, Babinski hammers and stethoscopes.
“I really like selling ’scopes,” says Levy after watching a student equivocate between navy and burgundy models. “It’s an important purchase, and it’s a personal fashion statement.”
Levy welcomes ideas from customers. “My customers help me manage my bookstore if I’m careful to listen to them,” he says. He started carrying cotton lab coats when customers requested them and he listens to the medical students who compare notes on various texts. “I like it when students come in really informally and pick each other’s brains,” says Levy. He began the year with four student texts for hematology. Very quickly, students had reached a consensus that Hematology at a Glance was the best.
Even when students are looking for a particular title, Levy likes to suggest alternatives. “They will come in and say ‘Do you have that blue book for ICU?’ I tell them, ‘This is the book they told you to get. It’s a great old book, but it’s 1998. This is the standard, but I want you to look at this.’ ” Then he’ll show them another guide, published in 2001. “That way,” he says, “they feel like they made a much more informed purchase than if they came in like lemmings and bought the one they were told to buy.” YM