Barnes & Noble bookstores are having a tough time up against Amazon, so you’d think they’d be hungry for every dollar. Not so, and I witnessed this first-hand recently.

I stood in line for a few minutes to buy a cake at the Barnes & Noble café in their store in downtown Manhattan. When I was finally acknowledged with just a perfunctory “next please”, and not even a smile, I responded with my order of “one lemon cake please”. My disinterested server (pictured below) returned with the cake in a bag and handed it to me. In return, I offered up a $100 bill. “We don’t have change for that,” she chirped. “Uh huh,” I replied. “We can’t change that; we don’t have change.” she responded. “Well what should we do?” I said.

“I don’t know, but we can’t change that,” she barked. And so I turned and walked away.

Barnes & Nobles

Here was a staff member of a struggling business telling me what she couldn’t do. She failed to offer an alternative; she simply didn’t want to solve the problem, and instead she was happy to let me walk.

Now, I would normally have given up and gone elsewhere, but I wanted that cake so I was forced to solve that business’ problem. I walked 20 metres to the book sales cashier and asked if she could change the $100 bill. “We can’t open the register without a sale,” she replied.

So here I had a second person throwing up an excuse; two people working for a business that can’t afford to be turning away a single dollar in a tough retail environment. “How about you talk to the store manager, I’m sure he or she will be able to find a solution so I can spend some money with you?” I politely replied.

After a brief call, a manager appeared, opened the register, and provided me with change so I could retrace my steps to the café counter and buy the cake. Had I not been so committed they would have missed out on that $4; they are definitely not getting my repeat business. Turn away enough $4 sales and ANY business would be feeling the pinch. This experience was the antithesis of my trip to Indigo Books & Music in Canada and if the two were side by side, I know where all of my hard-earned cash would end up being spent.