Tag Archives: bookstores

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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Rambling Boy

 

 

In Jack’s weekly guest blog he ruminates on the season -

Now that the weather has turned into something akin to Spring, Wendy and I have got back into going for a ramble round the neighborhood of an evening lately. It’s lovely to see everything looking green and coming back to life.

Part of our meanderings have taken us along the greenbelt path alongside the river and we were surprised and delighted to see how it had been upgraded with new fencing, lighting and signage. As we were overtaken by joggers, families on bicycles and passed by fishing folks, I couldn’t help thinking how much this would appeal to visitors to the town.

Those visitors, more and more, are coming here because of reading Wendy’s book – book-clubs, reading groups and individuals. As we get into traveling weather, I’m sure this will only increase. The latest messages we got were from readers in Portugal who have suggested a specially chartered plane!

But, of course, as we wandered along we noticed another colorful display – yard signs for candidates in the forthcoming Town Council election (I’m one of them).

Never having been a candidate in any election in my life and coming originally from a place that doesn’t ‘do’ yard signs I wasn’t too sure where you were allowed to put them, so tried to play safe. Front yards of folk I asked first and places that looked as if they were simply ‘common ground’. Imagine our surprise when we noticed that three signs I’d put out had disappeared! Not just blown away in the wind (my first assumption) because in two cases the wire frames were still there – somebody had gone to the trouble of removing the board from the frame.

I can only surmise that this election is more competitive than I first imagined!

Regardless who gets elected – if enough people get out and vote then we’ll get a Council that truly reflects the wishes of the local folk and if the Town continues with its downtown revitalization work we’ll have something our visitors can really savor.

 

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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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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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Nike’s Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the bookstore’s cat and human friends near and far -

It’s my understanding that humans send a letter each Christmas detailing all the fun and exciting things that have happened in their lives since the last one.

I’m sure human adventures have little to compare to feline ones, but still, it’s sweet that you try. Now, to my own Christmas letter. Since I wasn’t here last year, being only six months old, we can all agree that the world is a better place now. I know you’ll want to hear about my whole life, so here it is:

ImageThe first thing I remember is being cold and hungry in a big dark place, and a sharp sting on my head. Then there was a lady saying nice things in a reassuring voice, and a car ride, and I was at the doctor’s having my head shaved. They saved me from dying of fly-strike, so I don’t fault them for laughing, but is it my fault the haircut accentuated my ears? I have a tiny body, so I did rather look like a moth.

Then I went to the bookstore, and people began cuddling me and saying how adorable I was. This part was fun, but soon I began to suspect that the bookstore people were trying to get rid of me. When people came to cuddle me, they kept saying I was “available” for “adoption.” When they said this about the other kittens at the shop with me, they began disappearing one by one.

Hmmmm….. I liked it at the bookstore. There was Owen, the muscular, attractive guy just a year older than me. We like to…. wrestle. And then there’s Valkyttie, the elder cat, fragile and brittle but she’s taken me in paw. She watches me play with Owen and then regales me with her adventures as a younger cat. Apparently she was quite the looker.

Now who would want to leave such a complete family, so I activated a cunning plan to stay. One of the humans who worked there seemed content to let me be, but I sensed resistance in the man. I set to work, rubbing my long silky fur against his ankles, leaping into his lap and purring as I nestled against his chest, gazing up with limpid hazel eyes, even emitting pathetic little mews in the mornings as he sipped his coffee, until he’d lean down and set me on his shoulder.Image

I thought it was all going well until one day I saw them packing my bowl and some favorite sparkly toys in a bag. I’d been “adoption”-ed? Well, I wasn’t having that, so I straightaway jumped into the man’s lap, lay on my back purring, and batted his mustache with my little pink paw.

So next Christmas my letter will again come from the bookstore, and meanwhile I pray for all the homeless kittens everywhere to find a safe and warm family, and for their owners to make sure they don’t have kittens themselves.Image

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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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One for all, and all for – – -

Jack guest posts (late – and briefly)

Poor Kelley, our master chef and proprietor of ‘The Second Story Cafe’, which resides upstairs in our bookstore, went down with the galloping cruds today. She managed to struggle through lunchtime, then we sent her home to bed with a stern warning to not show face until we open on Tuesday.
So we will be the resident cooks tomorrow – – -
– – – But, wait, tomorrow we inaugurate our series of musicals dinners, with Christian Dimick and Witold Wolny providing classical guitar music and the cafe serving Italian food starting at 6.00 pm. Yikes!! But then there’s breakfast from 8.30 am and lunch from 11.00 am – Heavens, jings and help ma boab!!! We’ve been dining on Kelley’s delectable offerings every morning and lunchtime since she started, without a care in the world as to how the food was produced, so now we need to remember how to do this stuff – pronto!
Tonight (after we raided the grocery store) Wendy prepared quiches and lasagna, while I set up the coffee and primed myself to produce a risotto tomorrow afternoon (not to mention bacon and eggs in the morning). Wendy’s also working on something called a “blueberry french toast casserole.”

Ho boy.
We’ve had a fair bit of unexpected emergencies this week involving a bleeding dog and a sick goat. These meant Kelley and her acolytes minded the bookstore as well as the cafe, so this is all just a fair exchange of labor IMHO.
Now – where is the rice? and the olive oil? and the – – – – -
Y’all come – if you dare.

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