Tag Archives: bookselling

A Quiet and Human Place

Kelly Saderholm’s guest blog about her and her daughter’s recent stint as shopsitters in the Little Bookstore -

“Oh, wow, I just LOVE it here!” The customer said as she handed me money for her purchases. “I could LIVE in a bookstore!”

“I am living here,” I said, happily, as I gave her a receipt and explained how I was shop-sitting while Wendy and Jack were away in Scotland.

“That’s really COOL,” she said. And she was right.

My daughter Rachel and I agreed to shop-sit and look after the two dogs and ever-changing number of foster cats; in exchange, we could pick out whatever books we wanted, and have the experience of tending a bookstore. For so many of us hard-core reader types, this is a secret fantasy. In the age of disappearing brick and mortar stores (of any kind but especially bookstores) I had often wondered how that fantasy would stack up against the real thing. In this case, the reality fared pretty well!

I was fortunate not to have bad days, crank customers, or disasters. The worse thing that happened was that Bert, one of the dogs, got upset by the Fourth of July firecrackers and chewed up a basement step.

The best thing? There were so many “best things” it is hard to choose. Of course the books, surrounded by books, ahhhhh. I loved chatting with customers. With a high school class reunion and the holiday weekend, people from all over were visiting family and friends. Most had either read Wendy’s book or heard about the bookstore from friends and family. It was interesting talking to people from different regions, discovering their connection to the area.

Even more interesting were the people living here. Rachel and I fell in love with the place. I realized that our temporary home was not just a used bookstore, but Big Stone Gap’s Bookstore, catering to the needs and wants of the community. In the introduction to one of my favorite books, Laural’s Kitchen, one of the authors, Carol Flinders, talks about “a sense of place.” Jack and Wendy’s shop is very much a nurturing “Place” with capital letters, where people feel a connection to each other, to the town, the region, the culture.

Speaking of cooking and food and place- Kelley’s Second Story Cafe (on the bookstore’s second floor) is another very special place, with delicious food. She kept us well-fed during our stay!

Kelley’s food nurtured our bodies, the books nurtured our minds, but a third, intangible element of the bookstore nurtured our souls. A strong sense of Quiet pervades the bookstore. That feeling was re-enforced as Rachel and I took our leave last Sunday just as the Friends Meeting started upstairs. But the whole week there was a gentle, quiet feeling throughout the place. Several customers remarked on it. All week people came in just to browse and enjoy the quiet. One guy stayed for two hours.

If one is looking for a business to make fast, easy money, a used bookstore is not it. But, if one is a bibliophile interested in a satisfying, rewarding business–not in a profit sense but in a people sense– one could do worse than to run a used bookstore.

The first Foxfire book has a chapter titled, “A Quilt is Something Human.” It makes me happy that with so many chain retail stores selling mass-produced consumer goods, Jack and Wendy’s bookstore is indeed Some Place Human.

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The Monday Book: Big Box Swindle

The Monday book review this week is by guest poster Melissa Eisenmeier.

Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Retailers

- by a researcher from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance named Stacy Mitchell, makes a strong case for why small businesses are better than big box retailers and how, and why those retailers are changing America for the worse. In the book, she talks about how chains like Wal-mart, Target, and Home Depot have changed the American landscape, become the most corporations, and rapidly changed our communities and economies. Big Box Swindle also touches on how such chains affect global warming, why independent businesses are often better for the economy and communities than large corporations, and third places, like Wendy did in The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

By and large, Wal-mart is the business most often discussed in the book, but small businesses around the nation, Lowe’s, Target, and K-Mart, among other nationally-recognized chains are also discussed.

Several parts from Big Box Swindle resonated with me. The first thing was a quote from a Nebraskan named Bob Allen, who owned a department store for 30 years. He asserted that “Wal-mart is destroying the free enterprise system.” While that might be a simplified version of things, I think it’s very true that Wal-Mart and similar big chain stores aren’t doing the country any good.

The thing that resonated the most with me, however, was Ms. Mitchell’s contention that Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and similar big box retailers create a vicious cycle of poverty, unemployment, and underemployment. She contends that they do this by destroying small businesses that pay living wages and health insurance, which means that the people who used at them can’t get jobs that pay as they used to. She also says that those people who go to Wal-Mart because they need to save a couple dollars are unintentionally furthering the cycle just by shopping there, because Wal-Mart pays their employees minimum wage, does not offer health insurance to employees, and surreptitiously deleted time from employees’ time cards to save money.

While Ms. Mitchell generally doesn’t apply this logic specifically to Amazon, I think Amazon also maintains the cycle of poverty by killing off independent businesses that pay living wages and offer health insurance.

I don’t think Big Box Swindle is an easy book to read, but I do think it is a book people need to read.

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Should auld acquaintance – – -

Jack’s weekly guest blog -

I know – this guest post is a bit late!

But, hey – last night was Hogmanay!!

That’s one of the most significant nights of the year for Scots all over the world, and we celebrated in style with a houseful of friends, both young and old – er. We exchanged memories of our best moments of 2013 and our hopes for 2014 and played some interesting games (our dear friends Wes and Rach are serious ‘gamers’!). We all finished just after midnight with the obligatory rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ – pronounced with an S and not a Z, of course!

So that’s my excuse.

I finally woke up this morning around 9 o’clock to the realization that, not only was it 1/1/2014, but Wendy was in full flow basement flat re-organizing mode. I should know after 15 years that whenever I do some remodeling it doesn’t matter that it isn’t quite finished – furniture has to be moved, and moved, and moved again. So I had to very quickly finish off the last work to the famous basement toilet and get rid of all the tools, wood off-cuts, left over ceiling tiles and numerous garbage sacks in order to clear space for the aforementioned furniture moving. But, wait – we said the bookstore would be open today, and we actually had customers who took us at our word.

Talk about hitting the ground running!

the useful corner

the useful corner

So this is how our life goes – and it’s great. Here’s a couple of pictures of the finished toilet (or rest room as I must remember to call it. Rest room? REST ROOM?? What on earth does that mean!?) And God Bless Us, Every One, in this new year!

the other end

the other end

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Matron!

Jack’s weekly guest blog post, in which he sinks ever deeper into senility -

We sell a few books each week on the Internet through Half dot Com, an online marketplace where you can buy and sell books, videos and CDs (a branch of Evil Bay). When one of our listed books sells, we get an email saying which it is and who it has to be sent to.

A few days ago we got one of these messages and I couldn’t find the book. I asked Wendy if she’d seen it. As it turns out, she’d just finished reading it, so we figured it was probably down in our basement apartment. No luck! Finally Wendy turned it up hidden in among the ordered books waiting to be picked up by local customers.

Meanwhile -

Wendy, knowing I’m a fan of Alexander McCall Smith, had picked up one of his books for me from the local library (I blogged about it last week) and, now that I’d finished it, I’d laid it aside to be returned to the library.

Yesterday morning I had two early tasks. I had to package for mailing three ‘kitty afghans’ that Wendy had crocheted to raise ‘spay and neutering money’  and I had to package the aforementioned ordered book. I then walked over to the post office and sent them both off.

Except -

When Wendy got home she picked up the now only too familiar ordered book and waved it at me – “Haven’t you mailed this yet?”

Uh, Oh – – -

Yes – that’s right! In all the kerfuffle of getting the three afghans into a compact box and getting it all taped up and addressed, I’d stuck the book into its envelope without double checking. If I had, I’d have seen that I was mailing the McCall Smith LIBRARY BOOK by mistake. So I’ve sent the buyer a crawling apology by e-mail, explaining what happened, and included a similar note with the correct book, which finally went off by parcel post this morning.

And, yes, I did double check this time, and triple checked, and – – -

I wonder if I’m going to have to buy a McCall Smith on Half dot Com to take back to the library?

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Box Store?

Jack’s regular Wednesday guest post examines his guilty conscience -

One of the areas of contention between Wendy and me regarding the bookstore is the thorny issue of ‘tidiness’ and cleanliness. To explain further – I favor the Aladdin’s Cave model of used bookstore, while Wendy would rather everyone be able to find any book easily through rigorous alphabetizing and categorizing. In addition, I have no sense of smell, so tracking down elusive cat pee is next to impossible for me.

I’m not oblivious to the delights of a clean and tidy store and I do get a satisfying feeling when it gives out that general ambience. I’d even admit to really appreciating visits to other bookstores that achieve that kind of slick well organized look. So, what to do?

The cleanliness and cat-pee problem is ably dealt with by our ‘wonder-woman’ Heather every Monday and even I appreciate the difference after she is finished.

However our other big problem is not having anywhere to easily store large donations of books when they appear by the box-load. A couple of bags is one thing, but eight or ten large boxes is something else and we can’t let them clutter up floor space. Sorting out the acceptable from the non-acceptable usually results in at least a couple of boxes of ‘throwaways’ and they need to go somewhere – at least temporarily. Up to now that has been the garage, but that has now been taken over by (horrors) a car!

MidGe in the garage.

MidGe in the garage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the point -

Two of our good friends, (mother and son), who are regular attenders at our various evening events, brought us ten large boxes of books just the other night. Another gripe – books are heavy, so shifting large boxes is back-breaking work. Luckily their taste in reading is eclectic so at least the collection can be spread pretty evenly throughout the store. While the needlework gang were busy setting the world to rights last night I made a start and, sure enough, out of the ten boxes I rapidly identified two boxes worth of ‘throwaways’ (actually three liftable boxes).

We absolutely hate throwing away books and will even turn them into planters or hand-bags and purses to avoid that terrible fate, but sometimes it just has to be done (I think the reason the garage filled up with books is for just that reason).

Today is garbage day and I have a heavy heart – not only because the erstwhile contents of the garage wait at the curbside, but there are three boxes sitting forlornly waiting the same fate.

Mea Culpa!

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The Bookstores of Philadelphia

Well, the houses are big and beautiful, and the bookstores are closing and opening.

Not all of them, mind, but Philadelphia is losing Robin’s Books, one of its oldest and largest stores. The current proprietor, turning 70 this year, inherited it from his grandfather, and kept it running more than thirty years.

But all good things come to an end, and in its ending, other stores find their forward thrust and even beginnings.

Philly still has bookstores: today we visited the Crooked Mile, with its 70,000-strong stock count, another one that was snooty so shall remain nameless, and then Ann’s very cool shop, The Spiral Bookcase. Spiral is a primarily used bookstore, although Ann had gone to a lot of trouble to make a lovely display of my new book, complete with paper sculpted teacup.

Ann’s only been in business two years, and her staff cat Amelia has been in position less than six months, so it’s a new concern all the way around. All the better, then, that it got voted Philadelphia’s best bookstore this year.

It is a bummer that Robin’s is closing. They did all the right things: moved from predominantly new to mostly used; changed their hours to meet the needs of the changing populations downtown; even stopped drawing salaries and just took living expenses from the store.

But as they are going, it is very nice to see the young blood coming: Ann is energetic, her store is full of white Ikea shelves she assembled herself, and Amelia is an excellent customer relations specialist. Clearly they have a bright future. It is not “bookstores are doomed.” It is the circle of bookstore life; as one door closes, another opens. Huzzah for we happy few, we band of booksellers.

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The Bookshelf Con

(Jack and Wendy have headed off to the first book-signing today, leaving Andrew Whalen, shopsitter, extraordinaire in charge. Here’s Andrew’s guest blog for this weekend.)

I have a big secret:

I’m keeping a little list on the side, like a mob bookie running numbers outside of The Family. The list contains books I’ve found on the shelves here at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and desire… AND I WILL HAVE THEM.

I wrote earlier about the perils of alphabetizing, and I’ve continued to  tackle a shelf a day. It makes me look dutiful and pragmatic. Section by section I can be sure that the shop is in an order I can navigate. It even helps me get to know the stock more, so I can help customers.

WINK.

THE-STING-NOSE-RUB.

You see, I was actually running a long con. Alphabetizing is just the excuse for eye-balling books that I super want to filch. Books that I want to transform from books into possessions.

The thing is, I could probably just hide them. But that would be unsportsmanlike. And the classic gentleman con-man values honor above all else. He also dresses really dapper. Still working on that one. Okay, no I’m not, that’s a lie… or a CON. So I’ve left them in place, visible and perfectly alphabetized. It is up to the whims of the bookstore to determine whether they get sold or not.

At first I figured that my tastes ran weird enough that I was safe. I would not hoard gold, like a dragon, but leave it out for all to see, and still I would win the day and walk away with my reward. But then, justhours after placing one of my beloveds, in comes a customer. He pulled MY book off the shelf. If he had seen me stroking the cover and purring, “YES MY SWEET YES YOU WILL BE MINE,” less than an hour earlier, well, he may have been too grossed out to touch it. But no, he flopped it onto the table and handed over his filthy lucre. “Going to use this for toilet paper… for my incontinent iguana,” he said, in my mind, where I imagined him being an awful person.

So the game’s afoot. The books are out on the shelves. I’m not going to tell you what any of them are, but there are several in the Sci-Fi section, one in General Fiction, and one in History. OR THIS IS A DOUBLE BLUFF.

And now, with this blog post, I’m definitely spilling the beans. The jig is up. Unless this blog post is all part of my elaborate ruse…

THE-STING-NOSE-RUB… AGAIN.

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