Tag Archives: independent bookstores

Remember Customer Service? We do.

Little Bookstore is one of several on a list of second-hand bookslingers who trade ideas and share knowledge–including that there’s such a thing as being TOO local. People can take the approach that you must be in this small town because you couldn’t make it in the big city; I’ve just come back from an economic summit where rural town managers discussed this problem.

Being too local is a problem anytime of year, but at Christmas, people can also eschew specialty businesses because they believe making a mad dash through the discount warehouses will be “cheaper and more convenient.”

(Yeah, and the shortcut is always faster….)

Small Business Saturday and the Christmas season tend to be a special challenge for bookstores because much of our unique charm lies in our handselling technique; a proprietor knows his or her customers, and has developed a relationship of trust, of not trying to just sell, sell, sell but to match. We take pride in matching the correct book to the right person. Trust is the foundation of customer service, trying to help the customer rather than meet an imposed quota.

Everybody sells books at Christmas, but who can greet you by name, ask how your niece liked Divergent, suggest a new detective series because they know you like mysteries themed around food? Or, who can meet you for the first time, listen to a list of the last five books your dad read and what he thought of them, and then suggest the perfect present based on that information? How much time will you save with that kind of service?

That’s what we do, and what our friends in the bookselling business do. Because we are our businesses; we don’t just work for them. We believe in selling you what you want, not what you’ve been told you need. And we believe you are your own person.

Visit your local bookseller this holiday season–be it Paperback Book Exhange in Neenah, Wisconsin; Al’s Books out in Kansas; maybe that sweet little Country Bookshop in North Carolina; or one of the other 2,500-or-so used book shops across America. The coffee will be hot, the chairs comfy, the kittens purring, and the proprietors ready to listen, serve, and smile.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

Books a Bazillion

In which Jack returns to writing his weekly blog post, and sighs patiently over a subject known only too well to bookslingers everywhere.

garbage-landfill Yesterday one of our cafe regulars asked if we bought books. I explained that we didn’t, but gave store credit if the trade-ins met our needs and standards.

“Oh, I can just donate them,” he said, and headed for his van.

That seemed like a clue that these weren’t going to be top of the line, but I went out to watch him struggle up the front steps with an enormous TV box–the kind I advise folk not to use, as they weigh a ton when full of books.

A better man would have helped, but I admit to you my moral failing: I knew what was coming and just didn’t care.

A quick glance established that most of his donations were older Grishams and Pattersons; to add insult to injury, they were minus their dust jackets. After explaining as gently as I could that  these were pretty much useless to us, I raked through to find eight acceptable hardbacks as well as more (useless) battered paperbacks. At this point he shrugged and said he’d got them from a friend.

(So – a friendship wall?)

This was the third time in as many days we’d had much the same experience, having to explain that we don’t take hardbacks minus their jackets, torn or stained paperbacks, romances including Danielle Steel or kids’ coloring books already colored in. It’s the law of used book shops: people don’t want to dump, so they donate. And they mean well for the most part, but a couple months of that, and customers will have a hard time differentiating your shop from a dump site.

Surveying our store the other week, with its spiraling pinwheels of shelves moving toward the center of every room, eking out the final frontiers of space, I resolved to become even more choosy about what to accept. And perhaps instigate a cull.

After all, folk are generally pretty sanguine when I explain our policy. What I hope is that people will begin to weed out themselves before bringing stuff to us, but in the meantime, I’ll stifle a sigh. And maybe help with the box next time.

Perhaps I can build a garden wall somewhere with all those jacketless Grishams and Pattersons? Wendy would like that….

16 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, book repair, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, reading, small town USA

Fifteen Adults Laughing very hard Together

We’d been plotting the Cards Against Humanity game for a long time. Susan and David Hamrick, some of our favorite people on Earth, had recently lost Hazel, the beloved eldercat who sparked public outrage in Southwest Virginia when her owner surrendered her to the shelter at the age of 20; Hazel’s plight birthed a webpage for eldercat advocacy.

David and Susan also adopted Mal, the high-expense, high-care kitten with the cleft palate who crossed the bookstore lawn about a month before. So planning the CaH game was a chance for Hazel’s ashes to return to her hometown, Mal to see his adoring public now his feeding tube was out, and us to see David and Susan.

The participant list grew. Local doctors looking for a fun weekend (I work with regional medical recruitment); our sainted vet Beth, who diagnosed both Mal and Hazel free of charge; her husband TNB (we call Brandon That Nice Boy Beth Married, TNB for short); and a plethora of others, most of whom have adopted a cat from us. Being adult professionals, we had salad and vegetarian curry, black bean chili, and – in honor of Beth’s recent birthday – Peanut Butter Chocolate Reese Butterfingers Eight-Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Health care professionals know how to party.

And then the CaH came out, with the expander pack. Beth put bottles of her homemade Merlot on the table, and David set out his carefully hoarded Ben Nevis single malt.

But the fun started before the drinking, because the first card out of the gate was something like “How do you get laid?”

After Brandon won with a card that suggested certain specific activities in very precise anatomical locations, I turned to him and said, “I’m never calling you ‘That Nice Boy’ again.”

It all kinda took off from there.

There is something wonderfully healing about 15 adults sitting around a table acting like adolescents who have a deep background in politics. People literally snorted whisky out their noses, we laughed so hard.

And about every 15 minutes, someone shouted “Kid!” and the room went silent as the four young boys hanging out downstairs in the children’s room, playing with kittens under the supervision of a teen, came up and helped themselves to soda.

(Susan and I sent David and Jack to the store for children’s drinks before the party. They returned with a bottle of Mountain Dew. We sent them back for ginger ale.)

In the silence of an early “not in front of the children” moment, David said, “Did everyone enjoy the lovely weather today?” and we all died laughing again.

And again a minute later, when the winning response to “What are Jack and Leroy doing in the basement?” (there are blank cards for making up your own question) turned out to be “Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II.”

Jack’s praying for Scottish Independence, come September. He and Leroy were downstairs sorting a quick plumbing problem before joining the game.

Yeah, it’s raucous and raunchy and irreverent, but CaH is such good steam-valve-release fun. We play by the “everybody gets one veto” rule. Donald refused to play a Holocaust card; I put back “The Blood of Christ”; Kelley doesn’t allow the one about a pool of children’s tears. Everybody has limits.

But few and far between, for the most part, and sitting there watching 15 adults return to high school in their brains while eating vegetables and drinking responsibly, laughing themselves silly in good company, I couldn’t help thinking, “This is why Jack and I started a bookstore.”

Sitting around that table: two cancer patients, the mother of another, a cancer survivor, three medical professionals who make life-and-death decisions every day, a government employee, two professors, a couple trying to get pregnant, four people who lost parents this year, and two newly-fledged adults launching into the world. This world.

To have these moments, this place, where you can stop being the Responsible Adult, cut loose, and enjoy life is a rare and wonderful thing. We’re so lucky to be able to do this.

 

1 Comment

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

MORE AUTHOR HUMILIATIONS

Johnathan Rand is a household name if you’ve got kids. His RandAmerican Chillers series, Michigan Chillers series, and Freddie Fernortner-Fearless First Grader series have more than 5 million copies in print. But even highly successful authors aren’t immune to the vagaries of humiliation; read on. (And then check out his website: www.americanchillers.com).

On Saturday, April 28, 2001, I was scheduled for a signing at a Large-But-Now-Deservedly-Defunct-Chain-Bookstore. Upon arrival, I was informed that the manager had been on vacation for ‘some time.’ No one at the store knew about the signing.

The publisher had sent a dozen 18″ by 26″ posters for in-store promotion; they had not been placed. The store also received over 1,000 4″ by 6″ bag stuffers advertising the event. Again, these had gone unused. The press releases provided hadn’t been sent out, no media had been contacted.

The predictable result? Not a single person showed up. Note that the vast majority of my events tend to be capacity-positive, and most stores utilize a numbering system for customers to organize the flow of the line. Case in point: at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Saginaw, Michigan, the very next day, there were over 600 kids waiting for the signing to begin.

Hmmph…..

Could it get any worse? Oh yes. Just ask Joe Cobb Crawford, author of The Poetry Company:

My agent scheduled me to do a signing at a book store that had shuttered their doors two weeks prior to my arrival. No one told me. I showed up to see a sign reading “Out of Business.” This was to be my first ever book signing. Add to the embarrassment, this store was located near my childhood home town and some friends and relatives were to attend. Lucky for me, and with no help from my agent, a kind gentleman and owner of another book store in the town allowed the signing to be held at his book store.

(Joe’s website is http://crawfordpoetrycompany.com/ and he will be putting out a book of humiliation experiences this fall, entitled What the Bookman Saw.)

 

 

 

Author:

Books:

Leave a comment

Filed under bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing, YA fiction

Shopsitter Janelle says Farewell

We’re running a bit behind on timing because of the author humiliation contest – more entries posted Friday! This is our first shopsitter of the summer’s farewell post, and Kelly, our second shopsitter will be sending a post next week. (BTW, if you’re interested in shopsitting, we are looking for a week in October and a couple of weeks in December.)

Sadly, our shopsitting visit is soon coming to an end already.

We are excited about the potential of our final day sitting the shop, and we are tickled to have company coming for lunch tomorrow, too…folks that moved from our home area near Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Chuckey, Tennessee, several years ago. We just now realized how near to them we are while here.

To be honest, this shopsitting gig has been far more like a vacation than work. We have come to feel far more like family than “hired” help. And we have done more reading and relaxing than we have work. The latter I understand, I think. If I were home I’d find plenty to do (I’m pretty sure I have weeds waiting for me in my yard, taller than I am) but no matter how much work I invent for myself to do here (like re-organizing book stacks or putting sections of books back into alphabetical order or sweeping the front porch or doing dishes or laundry) I’ve still been getting to read and visit with guests (and Facebook) more than I would if I were at home this week.

And as for relaxing vacation, I’m not completely sure what to make of that, but I think it’s the Wendy factor. She has told her local people to make us feel welcome, and they sure have. We have been included in invitations to dinner and swim aerobics and church and told where the local walking/running trail is numerous times…and been included in pretty much all else that has gone on while we have been here. We have eaten nearly every meal offered (that will need to be addressed when we get home, too!) and, when I think about it, taken up very few of the exercise offers presented us. But Wendy threw out on Facebook that we wanted to do some local hiking, and after all sorts of suggestions for where we should/could go, kind friend Destiny simply said she would come and lead us, and she and her son Jack did!

I learned a lot while we were here; there is no question. I go home no less eager to one day have my own bookstore, no less eager to have Natalie bake and maybe cook for me like Kelley does in the Second Story Cafe here. Wendy and Kelley make that all look like a very easy, symbiotic relationship, not a “tough” job at all.

Wendy does, indeed, make it all look enjoyable and easy…although I do fear that I’d find in my own shop lots to do instead of this relaxed “I could do that” style. We prevented Wendy’s work from getting done sometimes with plenty of conversations, several good meals, a mutual glass of wine or bottle of beer here or there. Sometimes I really wanted her to go “make stuff,” assured that we could manage things here, and when she did, that’s when I felt I was contributing the most.

Otherwise, let’s be honest: I’d far prefer to hear her conversation with a guest to the shop–the exchange of local chit-chat, or updates on pet adoptions or procedures, or discussion of a new book, or valuing of books brought in for trade. If she wasn’t really “gone” from the shop, it was too easy for her to step in and do those things, and I seized the opportunities, then, to learn from the master.

I’ve very much enjoyed this adventure with my two youngest daughters, watching them melt kitten hearts and make new friends, devour books (Natalie stayed up until 2:40AM Saturday night…err, Sunday morning… finishing Water For Elephants, which she had started only the night before. It’s one of my all-time favorite books! How can I be upset with that activity?!) And I loved us getting to see, together, parts of the country we had not previously visited. Delaney’s determination to be THE one to get to “do the Square” any time a customer paid with a card or to be the one to take their cash, for that matter, showed me she has those super original cashier skills, communicating clearly and doing math in her head to make change (rather than NEED a cash register to do it for her). We go home with a new bond of mutual adventure and with many memories to share.

It’s like reading a book with someone, only better. The girls and I have shared a tremendous adventure, and I can only imagine how soon we’ll all talk about coming back! I imagine it will come up in the thirteen-hour ride home.Janelle on porch
Thanks for your hospitality, all. We have had a great time!

 

1 Comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

Welcome Shopsitter Kelly, and Humiliation Contest Updates

embarrassedThe entries continue to roll in, and they are side-splitting, sweet-tea-spitting, pants-peeing funny. Books are a noble calling, be it writing or selling-and it can go wrong in so many interesting ways!

You have until Sunday at 11:55 pm EST to enter your host or author humiliation story. Scroll down to Monday’s blog to get the rules and prizes.

If you’re visiting the blog, enjoy checking out the independent bookshops profiled on the BOOKING DOWN THE ROAD TRIP page. 3000+ still going strong in the States alone!

Today, we welcome Kelly and her daughter Rachel, who will be shopsitting while I’m in Scotland for a week. In their honor, I’m rerunning a blog for last year’s shopsitters, giving them a taste of what they’re in for:

When shopsitters tell their friends about coming to The Little Bookstore, reactions tend to divide into “Can I come too?” and staging an intervention.

We sympathize. Preparing the shop guide, we find ourselves typing bald statements like “When Valkyttie gets angry she pees down the bathroom heat vent.”

Will they even read the rest, the tried-and-tested wisdom of our cleaning guru, herself the owner of an angry kitty, plotting kitty, grrr, grrr, grrr? “Put a paper towel on the duster stick by the vent, swish-n-soak, then spray shaft with Heather’s magic elixir. Make sure it’s off first or you wear the elixir.” Or will they run in terror from a bookshop whose CEO is a pissing-mad eighteen-year-old Scottish cat clever enough to maximize effects?

Given corporate culture today, perhaps peeing down a shaft is not that bad, and having no boss is part of our bookshop’s fun. The place is yours: do as you will! The shop guide is assistance, not direction.

Jack and I wonder how Kelly and Rachel will react to the section “COLORFUL LOCAL CHARACTERS,” explaining the crazy psychiatrist, the schizophrenic man who believes he has PhDs in–among other subjects-canoeing and radiology. How ’bout Mr. S, a customer whose spider tattoo wraps around his bald head. Fixated on Fred Saberhagen, Mr. S keeps saying “BEE-serk-ER,” like a French surname, despite Jack’s efforts. Six foot six, hands like banana bunches, Mr. S picks up foster kittens and coos to them as he wanders the shop, fur baby curled purring against his chest.

Then there’s the back-scratcher hanging in the kitchen. Without it, you can’t turn on the light. One night Bert got this essential piece of equipment in his mouth and Jack and I chased him through the shop, screaming, “Drop it! Don’t chew!”

I’m not even going to talk to you about finding the light switches in this place, Kelly. They’re ALL behind bookshelves, so I’ve listed the titles you should look for.

As for dog chases, the guide tells how to recapture Bert and Zora should they slip out. [Equipment: two leashes, raisin-less breakfast bars, and a car key, kept in a Ziploc pouch at the back door.] It’s the kind of thing one doesn’t think twice about until explaining to someone else….

So, welcome Kelly and Rachel. And have fun while you’re here! I’ll be in Scotland if you need me.

1 Comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, shopsitting, small town USA, writing

Anna, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore….

DSCN0406Last Saturday as I returned from the Farmers Market, two young women walked up and asked if the shop were open. I affirmed it was.
“Great. We just want to look around.” The pair seemed … subdued, but also exuberant. An odd combination. Also, the more I thought about it, the more alike the girls looked.
Besides, it’s rude to leave browsers alone unless you know that’s what they want, so I ambled into the shop and asked if they wanted help finding anything. The taller of the two said, “We read your book, and we drove from Kansas yesterday just to visit your shop.”
“How long did that take you?” I asked, blinking.
“About 13 hours. We stayed in the hotel here last night,” said the one who would later identify herself as Leslie.
“Oh, what a pity we didn’t know you were here! We had a murder mystery. You could have joined in the fun.”
“We might not have been good company last night,” said Anna, back to me, voice tight. “We came down that Black Mountain Road.”
OMG. Jack and I were in Kansas last year for book publicity, and we remember the 75-mph speed limit, perfectly feasible because you can see for-bleedin’-ever down those long, straight roads. Black Mountain is not so much hairpin curves as a series of interlocking mobius strips. There are places where you drive a two-lane road against a rock cliff, a 90-foot drop down the mountain on the other side.
I couldn’t think fast enough to cover my response.
“You come from a state where ant colonies are designated hill country, and you drove through Benham, Kentucky?” My voice squeaked. “You could have been killed!”
Leslie rolled her eyes. “That’s what Anna said. Several times.”
Anna, investigating the history section, snorted.
Leslie had read Little Bookstore some six months ago, and told her family about her intention to road trip to see the place as soon as the weather let up. (Think snow on a surface so flat, you can see for three days’ walk in any direction, and you’ll understand her sensible urge to wait.)
Her dad was succinct. “Whyya wanna drive two days to see a bookstore?”
Undeterred, Leslie, an accountant by trade (“But I have a personality!”) invited her twin sister along. Anna works for the Immigration section of Homeland Security. We joked that she probably processed Jack’s citizenship claim.
Picture it: two happy-go-lucky career girls, out on a long weekend, headed for some wild and wooly times visiting a bookstore, careening around curves that make truckers wake screaming in the night.
“We looked at the map, and that seemed shorter than going around by the highway. So we figured, what’s the difference?” This from Anna, whose hands only stopped shaking after a second cup of tea. “And then my cell phone lost reception, and we had to kind of guess which way.”
There are places along Black Mountain where you not only don’t get cell reception, but they never find the bodies.
I shook my head. “I’m flattered,” I said. “And grateful you two are alive. Would you like to see some of the town before we map you a different route home?”
So my friend Elizabeth and I took Leslie for a nice relaxing walk on the town’s Greenbelt, where all the curves are gentle. We traded small town anecdotes and poison ivy remedies, and on returning to the bookshop showed them how to go back via the expressway. Anna still looked dubious, but we elicited promises that they would text when they reached safety, and waved goodbye.
We’ve heard from the twins since their return to Kansas, so we know they made it home. And for anyone else from the flatlands planning a visit to our curve in the neck of these woods, please call first. We’ll be happy to advise you on routes.

 

10 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing