Tag Archives: running a bookstore

Shopsitter Janelle’s Guest Blog

Janelle on porchThe idea for a trip to Virginia to shopsit was hatched on a quiet April night in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, when Delaney (my fifth daughter, age 9) and I were volunteering at their library during the Fox Cities Book Festival. We were hosts for Wendy Welch’s event. I’d perused Wendy’s blog and was intrigued by her story and her writing voice, and I was tickled to get to introduce her that evening at the event (that’s a promotion from straight volunteer!).

DSCN0560Delaney and I enjoyed the presentation by Wendy and her husband Jack, and at the end of it we bought a copy of their book, had it signed, took a silly photo with Wendy (Delaney’s request)…and in our parting, I said, “The next time you need a shop sitter, I’m your gal.” I say things like that, and I actually mean them, too.

DSCN0559We friended each other on Facebook later that evening, and it seems like it was just two weeks later when Wendy messaged her summer needs for a shopsitter. I was tickled, but there was a lot to manage yet in my spring schedule, and I couldn’t totally conceive of how it would all work. But it turned out that there was, indeed, a week when my two of my five daughters and I could make it to Virginia. Plans were confirmed.

I’d have loved to have brought all five, but three work all of the hours that they can at their jobs, so  it became clear that Natalie (age 15), Delaney (still 9), and I (age unnecessary) would be going on an adventure.

Janelle sceneryWe departed the Green Bay area at 6:30AM (only 1/2 hour behind our intended departure time) and headed for Big Stone Gap. With only very minor issues (including being flipped off at our first toll stop in Chicago), we very much enjoyed our trip south and east…then east and south…and yet further south…through amazing scenery and gorgeous natural landscapes (more interestingly beautiful the closer we got)…right into Big Stone and right up to the front steps of Tales of the Lonesome Pine (aka the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap), where the lights were on and the beds made in our honor. (Wendy was teaching a night class.) It was just about 8PM, eastern standard time…and the store looked exactly the same as its pictures on the book and in this blog.

We walked in and found our way around the shop/house/cafe according to Wendy’s directions, moved in our luggage, and then walked straight to the Dairy Queen a few blocks away. It called to us. And by the time we returned, Wendy was home.

janelle viewWe visited a bit, got a crash course set of instructions on selling books and collecting for cafe receipts (Delaney was delighted and most excited to be able to help any customers needing to process credit cards) and were told that Wendy would be leaving early the next morning, meaning we would open the shop and start the day that way. Okay! We were ready.

We attempted sleep…and two of the three of us got some. And then it was time. Wendy handed me my first cup of coffee and showed me how and where to get more. From there I could manage anything (I had my cup of joe)! And she was off. In her wake there were a couple of dogs in the shop who needed to be downstairs,by my recollection of instructions, but I got that sorted out, the girls got up and moving, and we were ready for the day.

The books on the shelves called to me, and I perused them with adoration, drawn to familiar authors or titles…or titles that made me giggle or feel intrigued. Wendy said part of the shopsitting deal was we got to take “any and all books you want.”

“Even if I empty out the shelves?” I thought to myself.

I started a stack with a beautiful hardcover copy of Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. Umm…note that said stack is currently divided into two stacks, each a foot-plus high.

janelle basketThere was a long time, though, between 7AM and our 10AM opening. I spent quite a bit of that time looking for light switches (Have you read the book? Then you’ll understand.) and some didn’t get found until helpful Erin arrived. I very much enjoyed the visits with and time spent getting to know Erin and Kelley, chief and sous chefs of the Second Story Cafe upstairs, and she also provided a second and maybe third cup of coffee. (And later bowls of delicious sausage and chicken gumbo. And a grilled cheese sandwich for Delaney.)

Soon the door opened and then I blinked and two days had passed, with the graceful entrances of friendly folks, either to peruse books or to meet Wendy because they’d read Little Bookstore or to eat in the cafe or to pick up food or specifically coming to welcome us. And those at the end of that list certainly made a tremendous impact. How wonderful to be welcomed into this small place; it has big hearts.

And so this is starting, very much, to feel like a treasured other home. (Don’t worry, Jack! We’re not more cats moving in.) I like it here. I enjoy visiting with customers, straightening, sorting, playing with foster kittens, helping folks find books, and “ringing up” purchases. Things got even more exciting Friday when I got to serve a few lunches in the cafe. Mind you, I have zero waitressing experience in my past, but I do LOVE good food and ENJOY good service. So I did do my best; hopefully Kelley thinks so, too.

We have a few more days of fun to go! Stop in and say hello.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, writing, YA fiction

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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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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Who? Me??

Jack’s Wednesday guest post -

As Wendy has posted in the past, we’ve been having lots of folk dropping into the shop who’ve read ‘The Little Bookstore’ – some from quite a distance (hhmmm – that sounds odd). They range from fairly large book-clubs to family groups and individuals and from Michigan to Florida. We’ve even got someone coming from Oregon in a month or two!

IMG_3640beulahAlmost without exception they take photographs, and these usually include pictures of our cats. The cats react to this attention in a variety of ways. Val-Kittie ignores everyone and continues working on her 5 year plan, while Beulah poses on the front porch – her domain – with great pride.

But the newest bookstore staff cat, Owen Meany, is just coming to grips with stardom. We didn’t have him while Wendy was writing; he came just at the end, and is named for the book Wendy was not supposed to hate. Owen is still too kittenish to carry off ‘aloof,’ and doesn’t have a personal domain to be proud of, or a story from the book for people to react to, so he does – – – kittenish things.owen meany 026

His favorite thing right now is to try to swing Tarzan-like from the tassel on the end of the fan pull-cord, although when he is discovered doing this he will quickly pretend to be working hard at something very important. Poor Owen; perhaps when Wendy writes her next book, he’ll be in it. That will make it easier for him to find his place in the bookstore world.

Owen sizing up the distance.

Owen sizing up the distance.

I'm working - really I am!

I’m working – really I am!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized

The law of unintended consequences

Jack’s weekly guest blog today reveals the bookstore planning methodology.

Regular readers of this blog will recall my guest posts towards the end of last year describing the conversion of our basement from a dark dismal hole into a light and airy work-space for Wendy. I thought maybe that would be the last major building work for a while – – -

But there’s the other half of the basement, which remains in its original cobwebby state, replete with concrete floor, brick walls and exposed roof beams/wiring/water pipes et al. But not for long, for Wendy has been thinking – – -

When Wendy says “I’ve been thinking – -” I just know there’s going to be work to do. Her latest wheeze is to make the second floor of the bookstore into a proper eating establishment. To explain – we’ve had a food license for  few years, with the intention of serving lunches in the bookstore. However the ever increasing bookshelves mean we’ve never really had the room to do that except occasionally when requested.

But we spend most of our free time in the store anyway and only sleep upstairs and, besides, there’s a perfectly good kitchen and bathroom upstairs as well as a couple of good sized rooms and a spacious landing. One of these rooms is currently our bedroom, so – – -

The still-to-be-converted additional room in the basement will become our bedroom, thereby making the whole space into our living apartment. It has a door into the yard in which I’ll fit a dog flap, so Zora and Bert will still have access to the yard and a place to hang out inside. That will also mean they will no longer be barking at customers from behind the gate at the bottom of the main staircase.

As we discussed all this and began to think about food styles and menus, Wendy said – “you know, I’ve been thinking – -. We could extend the bookstore upstairs as well. You’d only need to make a few more bookshelves – – -“

Aaarrrggghhh!

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A sign of the times

Jack’s guest post comes a little early this week -

It’s not surprising that many bookstore customers, on hearing my accent ask where I’m from, and then talk of their own family connections back to Scotland or Ireland. This area of Southern Appalachia has strong ‘Scotch-Irish’ antecedents. Frequently these conversations will drift around to the difference between perceptions and the reality of Scotland from an American point of view. Most Americans have an image of Scotland derived from movies like ‘Braveheart’ or ‘Brigadoon’ (Vincent Minnelli famously toured Scotland looking for suitable places to make ‘Brigadoon’ but eventually made it in Hollywood because he couldn’t find anywhere in Scotland that looked ‘Scottish’ enough!).

These conversations will often move on to questions about the real Scotland and how it fits into the modern world and global economy. Of course perceptions aren’t helped by confusion over what Scotland actually is in relation to – The U.K., Great Britain, The British Isles or even ‘England’.

In case you, dear reader, also find that confusing – hold on tight, and here we go -

The British Isles is a geographic description that covers Great Britain and the complete island of Ireland.

Great Britain is the union of two nations – England/Wales and Scotland (Wales was never a separate nation, sadly – it’s a Principality of England).

The island of Ireland is split into the independent Republic of Ireland and the much smaller province of Northern Ireland.

Great Britain plus Northern Ireland makes up the U.K. (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to give it its full name).

Got all that?

Finally I will often mention that in September 2014 there will be a referendum in Scotland on the restoration of the country to independent status again. Supporters call it ‘independence’ while opponents call it ‘separation’ – ah! The power of words!!

Talking of words, Wendy and I recently saw this sign on Interstate 77 just north of the NC line. We thought some of our Scottish friends might see the significance -

independence_14

Shurely shome shignificance (as Sir Sean Connery would Shurely Shay)

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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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