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My Table is My Store

“John,” a table-holder called to get my attention at the MVPA Convention, “have you ever written about ‘behind the table’ etiquette?” I hadn’t really thought about it, but my answer was rather instinctual: “My table is my store.” It wasn’t until the 13-hour drive back to Minnesota that I really thought about what I meant by that.


“Jumpin’ Johnny!” an older customer to my Dad’s store would call to me as he approached our butcher department. Looking up from whatever piece of beef I was cutting, I would see George, a rather rotund, older guy, passing housewives with shopping carts as he neared the meat case. He was always wearing the same thing: A khaki, button-down shirt tucked into khaki trousers. Atop his balding head sat a dark brown fedora.

Without an invitation, he came back behind the wall concealing the butcher’s area and backroom from our regular customers. George would plant himself on the aluminum step stool that doubled as the only “chair” in the area. Reaching for our coffee pot, George would remark, “Looks like you need to cut up some Braunschweiger today.”

It took a few repeats of this performance for me to catch on: George wasn’t interested in my workload or whether our coolers were fully stocked. Rather, he wanted me to go into the walk-in cooler and grab one of the many 36-inch-long sticks of Braunschweiger that hung from a big metal hook. As I cut the stick into approximately 1-lb sections, George would say, “Cut off a sliver for me.” I would place my left hand in a way that would guide the large knife in cutting a ¼-inch slice. “Move it over a little,” George would insist. I moved my left hand to guide a ½” slice. “Just a little more,” would be his last demand, before I applied the pressure to cut a 1” slice (about 3 ounces) from the stick.

George would eat the slice and drink his coffee before announcing, “Back to the salt mines.” I watched him walk back up the aisle, past the carts of other shoppers, and right out the front door. This scene repeated 2-3 times a month, for at least six to eight years. Only George’s passing stopped my 3-ounce donation of Braunschweiger to his favorite charity. The kicker of the story is this — George was one of the most successful and richest men in our little town. I liked him, but after the first goodwill gesture, I didn’t know how to say, “George, you really should be paying for the Braunschweiger…”


Back to the Convention: My buddy described how a friend had come round his table to sit and chat. A potential customer approached the table with an item to sell. Apparently, the customer thought that the items displayed on my buddy’s table were similar enough to what he had to sell. “Are you interested in old military radios?” the person asked. Before my buddy could answer, the visitor sitting behind his table replied, “Whattya got?” The customer — not knowing that the person wasn’t the table holder — went on to describe what he had before selling the gear to the visitor behind the table.

Reading this, you can probably understand why my buddy was a bit perturbed! He went through the effort to buy tables, set up at the show, and conduct business. In essence, the tables became his shop for a weekend. What sort of etiquette should a person to his (or anyone’s) “shop” demonstrate? With 13 hours of driving, I was able to compile a small list of suggestions on how to conduct oneself behind another's table:

  1. Don’t go behind the counter. Don’t assume that just because you know someone, you are entitled to come around and sit with them behind their tables. Behind the tables can be a messy scene — half- consumed cups of coffee, notebooks, phones, computers, or even money are sometimes hidden behind or under the table. If you want to sit down with your buddy behind his / her table, ask if it is okay for you to come around.
  2. This is a job. While this is a hobby for you, for many table holders, this is a work day — more so than any other day. When there is a person or two orbiting the tables, the chances are they are waiting for an opportunity to ask about an item or even make a purchase. Don’t occupy the conversation — in fact, just stop talking and acknowledge that the table holder has a customer.
  3. You don’t work here. If you are behind someone else’s table, make it obvious to customers you are not in charge. Any questions, comments, or payments must be directed to the table holder. You are simply a guest, and as such, defer any business deals to the table holder. If he/she wants your input, they will ask for it. If not, let them transact their business. If a customer is standing there, shut your mouth, and let your buddy take care of business.
  4. Hands off! You aren’t a bloodhound off the leash. Keep your nose out of your buddy’s tubs, boxes, or other things under or behind his / her tables. Don’t even take things off your buddy’s table while you are behind it — and certainly not without their permission! If you want to shop, get out in front of the table.
  5. Get your own table. Don’t use your friendship to “Put a few things out” on someone else’s table. Likewise, don’t think you can stand behind your buddy’s table to make deals. If you want to have the privileges of a table holder, purchase one of your own. You can even ask the promoter if a table is available next to your buddy’s.
  6. Don’t outstay your welcome. You probably haven’t seen your friend for some time, but remember, he / she is at the show to do business. If you need to spend more than five minutes talking, why not invite them to supper after the show to catch up on things?
  7. Do NOT interfere with a deal. While it should be obvious that any deal transacting over the table belongs to the table holder, this rule also applies to anyone (dealers or collectors) who sees a person walking around with something interesting for sale. If the person with the item is standing in front of a dealer's table, he is “in that dealer's store.” Don’t barge in on them.

And by all means, don’t ask your buddy for free food! In fact, surprise them with a cup of coffee, a piece of Brauschweiger, and maybe a doughnut. That way, 40 years from now, some collector won’t be writing about your mooching habit.

Preserve the memories,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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