Tag Archives: bookshop management

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – –

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – – – -

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA

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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FIRE! FIRE!

 Jack’s guest blog post today recounts the great fire of 2014 -

Well, that was quite an experience!

We were down in Johnson City on Monday doing radio shows and meetings and then headed home to avoid the forecast snow, arriving back in mid afternoon. Shortly afterwards I looked out the window and couldn’t see the other side of the street. Thinking it was fine snow I moved to a better position and saw clouds of dense smoke pouring out of a building only a couple of hundred yards from the bookstore. It was a NAPA auto parts store full of paint, oils, tires and other scary stuff and as I watched dumbstruck flames began to appear through the smoke. Within a short time the firefighters and police had all the surrounding streets closed and fire engines and high-lift ladders came screaming in – locals as well as from all the surrounding towns. They worked until 11 pm and then left it to burn itself out.

Next morning I walked across and saw a small fire still burning inside. Hhhmmm, I thought – that doesn’t look good! Within half an hour the whole place was blazing worse than ever and all the firefighters were back with their machines. We took a walk up to look in the evening and despite the enormous quantities of water we’d seen poured on the building for two days, there were still a number of healthy fires burning inside. Finally this morning it looks as if it has really has burned out!

Through the whole thing I was torn between disbelief that this was actually happening, the danger of the  whole place exploding in all directions, and fascination at the scale of it – a great column of smoke, enormous flames, the apparent ineffectiveness of the enormous quantities of water being poured down on it (and how quickly we could evacuate our dogs and cats).

Now that it really does seem to be over, my final thought is for two groups of people – the owners and workers in the business that has gone, and the brave men and women who battled to keep it from spreading to the adjacent buildings (including our bookstore).

Finally, pictures -

and gets worse

and gets worse

It starts

It starts

and even worse

and even worse

Then yesterday morning

Then yesterday morning

Half an hour later

Half an hour later

Last night

Last night

Meanwhile Owen is ready to go!

Meanwhile Owen is ready to go!

 

 

 

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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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Filed under bookstore management, crafting, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

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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Tails of Dogs and Cats

Jack’s weekly guest post -

I’m a bit of a fan of Alexander McCall Smith, ever since I stumbled across the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I also fell for his Scotland Street series as well – particularly for his very accurate depiction of a certain element of Edinburgh society with which I’m familiar. The slightly down at heel Georgian New Town intelligencia, complete with their locked private gardens!

One of the characters in the Scotland Street series is a dog called Cyril and McCall Smith manages to get inside his mind wonderfully. In many ways Cyril became one of my favorites.

But then along came the incredible Freddie De La Hay – one of the residents of Corduroy Mansions a new series set in the Pimlico neighborhood of London. Freddy is first introduced as an ex-drugsniffing dog made redundant from Heathrow Airport as a result of a campaign against sex discrimination (all the drugsniffers were male). Once again McCall Smith gets right inside the mind of a dog as it smells its way around its world, eating expensive shoes and catching Russian spies along the way. Despite a fascinating range of humans, it’s the dog that once again does it for me!

What got me thinking about this was an experience I had yesterday. We took in an older cat a few days ago that had initially been rescued by our friend Jessica. She was going to keep her, but her existing feline co-habitee didn’t approve at all. So Jessica paid to have Sweetie Pie spayed and then she came to us until we can find her a permanent home. All well and good!

Wendy left at lunchtime yesterday for a couple of days of business in Richmond and I was left keeping an eye on the lodger. Sweetie Pie seemed quite content relaxing on a stool in the mystery room. Then Kellie, our cafe chef, came in around 5 pm from a grocery run – “Sweetie Pie’s outside”, she said. “what?” I said – -

Sure enough – she was out in the front garden and when I went to pick her up she ran down onto the sidewalk. We both tried to catch her, but she kept running further off. eventually it got too dark to see where she was and I gave up. What on earth would I say to Wendy – and Jessica – how would we tell her that the cat she recued and paid to have spayed had run away on our watch? Wendy phoned later and I broke the news. We commiserated with each other and agreed that at least she had been spayed so there wouldn’t be exponential explosion of kittens.

Feeling disconsolate, I headed down to our basement bedroom and noted both dogs and our three indoor cats all in their favorite spots. Sitting on the edge of the bed to take of my shoes, I glanced up. Owen Meany had been lying beside Zora but now he was magically up on the window sill! No – wait – he’s still beside Zora – what?

Sweetie Pie holds court

Sweetie Pie holds court

There she sat, calmly licking her paw and preening herself. “What?” she meowed – “fine neighborhood you have here. Nice cats! What’s for dinner?”

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We wear our wings of silver – – -

Jack’s weekly blog post, in which he ponders the power of memories to support friendship.

We had a visit today from a friend who has also been a fairly regular customer. Mike was recently ‘let go’ from his newspaper job and therefore has more time to come into our store. When he arrived our schizophrenic regular was also here and we all ended sitting down together while Mike waited for the cafe to start lunches.

The last time I mentioned our schizoid friend (let’s call him Chas) involved a similar situation, but with a visiting musician buddy (let’s call him Greg, since that’s his real name).

But back to Mike -

Mike and I enjoy a shared passion for model airplanes (or aeroplanes, as I much prefer) – in his case plastic display models and in my case the flying variety. In my misspent youth I built and flew both free-flight and u-control types and couldn’t afford those fancy radio controlled ones (in those days the radio equipment was expensive and so heavy you had to build models that were almost as big as the real thing!). U-control is where you stand in the middle of a circle holding a ‘U’ shaped handle attached by two wires to the model (controlling the elevator, making the model go up or down) while the plane flies round you at anything from 60 to 100 MPH. I suppose I should admit here that Mike’s models tend to survive a great deal longer than mine!

The most recent model I built. A 1912 Nieuport Monoplane. Safely hanging from the bookstore ceiling!

The most recent model I built. A 1912 Nieuport Monoplane. Safely hanging from the bookstore ceiling!

We found that special ‘sweet spot’ of conversation when two followers of strange pastimes dive together into that pool of shared enthusiasm. Mike extolled the virtues of different brands of plastic kits while I recounted how I’d re-discovered flying models just 10 years ago. I described my wonderment at miniaturized multi-channel radio equipment and the move from oily, smelly engines to electric motors. We waxed eloquently about Spitfires, Lancasters, Seamews and Hurricanes, as well as Mike’s predilection for the ancestors of the Hurricane – Hawker’s classic biplanes of the 1930s, the Hart, Hind etc.

 

As we went at it, I suddenly noticed that Chas was sitting like a spectator at a tennis match – head moving back and forward and a look of complete contentment on his face!

more

Two friends could lose themselves for an hour in a warm fuzzy place and Chas once again felt included.

How cool is that?

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