At first, when a pallet of boxes showed up at the Harvard Book Store’s Needham warehouse earlier this month, nothing seemed fishy about it.
The store, which was prepping for its semiannual warehouse sale, regularly gets batches of “remainder” books — leftovers from publishers, sold in bulk, then re-sold at steep discounts — delivered in large quantities, in all sorts of packaging.
“I didn’t even look twice at the pallet before signing the delivery acceptance slip,” said Alexandra Reid, the bookstore’s warehouse manager, in an email. “It wasn’t until we were done chatting with the delivery driver that I turned around and actually focused on what was printed on the outside of the boxes.”
Sitting before her were dozens of green-and-white cardboard packages that read, “FROZEN FISH” and “HADDOCK” in big block letters.
“I was immediately horrified,” Reid said. “I was genuinely afraid that I had just casually accepted 600 pounds of frozen fish.”
This would not have been an order her facility, a low-slung brick building without a commercial freezer, could handle. But in the end, the labels on the boxes were just a red herring. When she popped one open, it was filled not with heaping portions of frozen haddock, but with books.
“We were immensely relieved,” she said.
It turns out that the store’s regular distributor, which ships goods for a variety of local companies, simply had extra boxes lying around, and didn’t want them to go to waste. They happened to be for a Florida-based seafood wholesaler called Beaver Street Fisheries, Inc.
The Harvard Book Store evidently didn’t want the boxes to go to waste, either. The shop (John Henry, the owner of The Boston Globe, is a part-owner) is capitalizing on the fishy mix-up as a way to lure customers to its virtual warehouse sale, which was set to continue through Sunday.
In a callout on social media that included a photo of the boxes, the company invited people to come up with captions, and offered a $50 gift card as a prize for the best one.
Early contenders included “I’ve HADDOCK up to HERE with incorrect deliveries,” as one person wrote on Instagram.
“Available in hardcover, paperback, and filet,” another person quipped.
Then, in a nod to a famous seafaring literary figure, someone chimed in with “Call me fishmeal.”
For fun, the bookstore also planned to send some of its warehouse sale book orders out in the haddock boxes, so customers will be just as confused as they were when their package arrives at the front door.
“I’m going to encourage the staff to put just a little disclaimer on them so everyone — including the delivery drivers — doesn’t have a heart attack,” said Alex Meriwether, the shop’s chief creative officer.
Above all, Meriwether said he hopes the mix-up serves as just one more ”reminder of what shopping within a local economy’s ecosystem looks like,” he said.
“You don’t see this at Amazon.”