Tag Archives: shop local

Parkville Bookworm in Maryland needs our Help!

 

This is a guest blog from my friend Melissa, a fellow bookstore owner. Please, if you live near Baltimore, share this information. Thanks!
melissaMy name is Melissa Eisenmeier. I own the Parkville Bookworm, a used bookstore in the Baltimore, Maryland, suburbs. It’s the perfect job for me: I have to read books to recommend them to customers. I get to talk to and meet all kinds of interesting customers, from Kathryne, a fellow history junkie and cat lover; Alicia, who plays guitar, likes science, and Stan Lee, my staff cat; the lady who comes in with her husband once a week and recently told me her cat is Stan Lee’s girlfriend; and Karen, my outsource buyer(Jack and Wendy would likely call her the no-cash crew). I enjoy showcasing all the cool books out there. My customers seem to like the store, too; I often get told this.stan

 

Things were going fairly well in June, but I still wasn’t quite making enough to pay the bills. The past two months have kicked my butt, however. July and August, as I expected and tried to plan for, have been slower than I would like, and I quickly ran through what money I had set aside. I tried some different stuff to draw people in, from art shows to book clubs(the art show with Jenny O’Grady went over really well, and she was a lot of fun to have in the store).

 

When the credit union told my business partner she was at her limit, I knew I had to act fast. I didn’t want to close the bookstore, and we couldn’t borrow any more money. I decided to turn to my customers. I did the math, and figured out if I could get all 325 people or so who liked the bookstore’s Facebook page as of Thursday afternoon to come in and spend $10 by the end of the month, then I could make the rent, pay my assistant Lisa, and pay all my other bills.

 

stan leeThe Parkville Bookworm is located at 2300 E. Joppa Road in Parkville, MD. The store is located across from Taco Bell, and the entrance faces Ed an Jim’s Auto Body Shop. You can also find us on Facebook.

And of course I encourage you to support your local bookstore if you’re lucky enough to have one. Should you not, you can message the bookstore’s Facebook page with a short list of books, or send an Excel sheet or Google spreadsheet list to me at parkvillebookworm@gmail.com. If it’s in stock, I can mail it after we do a credit card transaction..

 

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Caretaking the Eternal Library of Humanity

My friend Anita out in Kansas is looking to relocate the bookshop she manages, Al’s Old and New Books. She has discovered that some people think used bookshops are…. downmarket, while others prefer the term “passe.”

Bollocks!

Jack and I have often commented that we oversee a library of ever-changing leftovers, some of which have mass appeal, some of which have esoteric appeal. But the reason we like what we do is that we’re not full of the latest bestseller, face outward on the aisle so mega-shoppers walking to the mall can be enticed by “Oh, I heard about that on Twitter!” impulse moments.

We have the long-term, hardcore stuff. The 1970s classics on Marxism, the Leif Ungers and Robert Fords and Lisa Changes. People who write well but disappeared into the well of marketing madness with nary a splash. My agent Pamela and I were talking one day about the “nebulous” position of used book stores in the publishing world. “After all, NYC doesn’t make any money from them,” she said, but then added, “but we all benefit from them. You are the caretakers of humanity’s eternal library, aren’t you? Like a benevolent dragon trying to get the gold horde out there instead of sit on it.”

Used book stores are the place where the sounds of silence outweigh the shrieks of hawkers telling you why THIS BOOK is the Next Great Thing. You can look for yourself–and thus see for yourself–in a used books shop. In a society that equates old with “has been” rather than “wisdom,” used books shops are a place for those who know when not to swallow a line.

We love running one. And this week, we’ve sold an amazing number of  what from a mainstream point of view would be “nobody’s gonna buy these” books. We sold about 20 volumes of philosophy. No, really, PHILOSOPHY! Mostly 1960s textbooks and treatises.

We sold a great wheen of French novels, both translated and in the original language. And we sold a set of plays written in the 1700s. A cheap, simple copy for someone who wanted to look at their structure. $3.20 and out the door she went.

This is part of why used book shops matter. It’s nice to have big well-lit shops with the bestsellers in them at full retail, but it’s also nice to have a dowdy little community center where you can think for yourself. That, and the $1.50 cuppa and the comfy couches and the cat option and the fact that if you come in and say, “Oh crap, I left my wallet at home,” we will say, “Fine, we’ll write it in the ledger and you can pay us next time you come.” And the customer, who only gets down from Ohio four times a year, stares at you like you’ve gone mad, and comes back two months later and pays up.

This is why it’s important for us to be here. Downmarket, my arse. Up the caretakers of the eternal library of humanity!

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The More the Merrier

Jack’s weekly guest blog on why Big Stone Gap is a great place to visit

It’s always a real pleasure to get unsolicited confirmation that we are doing something right. We got two examples this week and I’ll let them speak for themselves.visitors

First of all, to our great surprise and delight, a link to a terrific write-up about Our Good Chef Kelley and the Second Story Cafe appeared yesterday morning. We had had a visit from photographer Jason Barnette a few weeks ago, which he wrote up on his food blog ‘The Southeastern Traveler’.

http://www.southeasterntraveler.com/blog/2014/05/the-second-story-cafe-is-a-first-story-destination-in-big-stone-gap-va/

Today our phone has been ringing off the hook with folk asking about the cafe hours and where exactly we are.

Inside the bookstore. Yes, that bookstore. :]

Then, yesterday afternoon, we were equally delighted to have a group come into the bookshop who had driven down specially from Harrisonburg, VA just because one of them had read The Little Bookstore and they decided to see it for themselves. They stayed overnight in one of the local hotels and then came back for breakfast here and to shop for books.

As they were leaving they said they would definitely be back and raved about the beauty of the town and its setting. We’re so happy to be one of the many reasons people come to Big Stone Gap. We look forward to the film from Adri’s books, and we look forward to the new local businesses that will spring from increased interest in our area.

And we’re ever so proud to be the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

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Observations on the Boston Globe’s article about Bookstore Ownership

Jack’s weekly guest blog

“Oh, some poo’er the giftie gi’e us, tae see oorsels as ithers see us” (Robert Burns)

(Oh that some power the gift would give us, to see ourselves as others see us.)

Over the last few months it’s been interesting to read the number of articles about the resurgence of independent bookstores around the country and see how Wendy’s book and our experiences have fit in. And to sit back and watch, with small “we told you so smirks” playing on our faces, how many people who thought just three years ago that bookstores were “dinosaurs” are now eating crow served up by brontosaurus waiters and waitresses.

Yes, we might be gloating slightly on that point….

On Sunday past the Boston Globe ran an article on wealthy retirees looking to ‘fulfill their dream’ of running a bookstore someday by buying ready-made shops that had gone ‘belly up’. (I’m sure many of them worked with their communities to support the previous owners, like folks elsewhere.)

It wasn’t clear from the article whether these were new-book stores or used-book stores and that has a certain bearing on their success potential, as does whether they are in buildings with mortgages or rents. As Wendy said in her talk for Books TV, “my advice to people wanting to open a bookshop starts with: don’t pay rent for a separate building. And you need to like people as much as you like books.”

That’s another key element, liking people, because you need to invite them in for community events –not just author signings, but actual hub activity. Invite all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons tied to books. Give them needlework nights, game nights, astronomy nights, illustrator nights, nights of fun and flaming passion – well, fun, anyway.

While we were in Nashville at Southern Festival of the Book we chatted with Ethan Watters, author of Urban Tribes. He  is from San Francisco and was telling us about someone who had bought an existing bookstore out there planning to do just that–make it into a ‘community hub’ and thus keep it alive and thriving. This is an approach dear to our heart and also, we believe, one the great ‘unique selling points’ (MBA-speak; excuse me) of bookstores. It’s why we matter. It’s why we’re thriving.

The Globe article might focus a bit more on wealthy people in upmarket areas than on the small town shops Wendy and I saw in our 2011 Booking Down the Road Trip, or have heard from in the community of independent bookstore owners banding together since then, but our observations remain the same: those prepared to work hard and find fun in that will love running a bookstore. And they will understand one our favorite sayings: there are those who are rich, and then there are those who have a lot of money.

I do wonder, with a sympathetic grin, if those buying bookstores know what they’re letting themselves in for. We didn’t, when we started. Which leads me to another Scots saying: “Weel ye ken noo!”

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Bouncing off the Bars

People can get priggish or preachy about the whole “shop local” thing, but it really does have a positive impact. I bought a hank of homespun wool from a friend for $25; she spent $15 at the local craft shop and $10 buying books from me. I had supper at the buffet across the street; the craft shop owner bought cupcakes from the local bakery for her son’s birthday. “Follow the money” as ’round and ’round and ’round it goes, keeping us in business for ourselves–and each other.

What if I’d gone to Walmart instead and bought $25 worth of Red Heart–which would have been a whole 28 oz. more of crocheting material?

More yarn, less community. Thank you, but I’ll make my friend a scarf instead of an afghan for Christmas.

Jack and I shop local, but we once made a pact that we would not buy anything at Walmart unless we couldn’t find it after a week of trying elsewhere, and gave up after about 10 days. We needed a picture frame, and nobody sells them anymore, except specialty ones in Hallmark (a locally owned franchise).

So we’re not sticklers. Jack once read me excerpts from a book called The McDonaldization of Society, in which the author divided people into iron cagers, rubber cagers, and free-rangers. Iron cagers shopped for the cheapest or most convenient thing, without thinking of its impact or consequences except to them (money and time) in the short term. Rubber cagers tried to buy things from local providers before chain stores (local franchises are not chain stores in my mind, btw) and generally made purchases based on their carbon footprint and what they considered fair treatment of those who produced the item.

The sad point of the book was that free rangers–those who swear they will DO NO HARM, grow their own food, spin their own cloth, etc–cannot be completely free if they live in a developed nation. It’s impossible. (And if they live in a developing one, that’s just called “daily living.”)

Still, as that author pointed out, rubber caging is better than nothing, and every little bit helps–or at least slows the crash and tumble that economic or environmental disaster historically bring. So Jack and I aspire to bounce off the bars of uninformed choices every chance we get. Boing! It’s kinda fun, actually, to plot one’s way out of the path of least resistance, and surprisingly inexpensive. Bet you know a local crafter who doesn’t even have a shop; a little stuffed-to-the-gills “junk” store somewhere on your town’s side streets; even a service store that would do a gift certificate if you asked them.

Boing… this is kinda fun… boing….

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The Really Fun Parts of Bookslinging

Running a used books store hovers around #12 on the list of second careers retirees dream about, which begs the question: what is it in this “doomed” (according to the media; we say “Hmmph”) profession that appeals so? Jack and I sat down to make a list of the top 5 perks:

1) The customers. You’ll never meet sweeter, kookier, nicer people than those who frequent bookshops. I am tempted to add, particularly in a small town, but maybe it’s universal. Our customers tell us stories, bring us brownies, ask us to look at their rashes, suggest colors to paint our walls… They’re like a big extended family of near-and-far cousins.

2) Sorting the trade-ins. This is kind of bittersweet; we see SOOOOO many Pattersons, Cornwalls, Grishams. A grey twilight is threatening to eclipse our paranormal romance section. And yet, amidst the flood of oh-so-popular stuff, boxes come in with unique offerings; you lift the Reader’s Digest How To Manuals and find a slew of unknown titles–and your heartbeat accelerates.

I’d never heard of Prayers and Lies, but  liked this debut novel about dysfunctional families. It was just lying there in a stack of Nicholas Sparks, humming a little tune to itself, waiting patiently to be discovered. That happens often enough to keep us excited.

3) Quips. Customers say the darndest things! They toss off comments that completely startle you with their wisdom. The other day as I bemoaned the economy an elderly customer shrugged. “I ain’t eatin’ cat food and the sun is shinin’,” he said. “Good’nuff fer today.”

4) Peacefulness. We don’t know why. Our personal lives are NOT peaceful at this time (though they are fun). And this peace thing is true of other bookshops we have visited. Books lining walls make a noise buffer? We don’t know, but bookshops are magically calm, and we can tell you that it’s not our influence as owners making it so. It just is.

5) The juxtaposition of predictability and unpredictability. This morning Jack said, “It’s Friday. Mr. L will be on the porch at 9:30, waiting for his Steinbecks.” Mr. L discovered Steinbeck late in life (his seventies) and has since been buying one per week. I asked Jack if finances held Mr. L back from getting a slew at once, and Jack doubled over with laughter. “I actually offered a deal on all we had, and Mr. L said, ‘Nah. What if I die ‘afore next weekend? Nobody else in my house’d read ‘em.’”

Nancy comes Thursdays and gets Dragonlance books. Wendy (a customer, not me) buys True Crime every two weeks, on payday. Pitted against this, on any given day someone could waltz in and demand “everything you’ve got on Hawaii,” or take out his fiddle and play a tune–as a young lad did last week for Jack, without preamble. When he’d finished (to a round of applause from other shoppers) he asked, “You wanna stock my CD?” (Jack did.)

Being a bookslinger won’t make you rich, but it will make you happy.

(Don’t forget to scroll back to Aug. 14th and enter Caption Contest V. It’s fun, and you could win a free book!)

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We Happy Few, We Band of Booksellers

Sometimes the little guy does win. Or at least holds her own.

I’m not quite sure what’s happening with bookstores these days – small, independently owned bookstores, I mean; we can all see what’s happening to the giants; Amazon is closing them. But what I begin to suspect (okay, hope for and daydream about) is that we’re gaining ground.

Bookstores are magic places, but I don’t have to tell you that. The watering holes of like-minded souls, the gathering spot for the tribe, they come pretty close to sacred. And it seems to me that, like farmers markets ten years ago, small bookstores are entering a period of rejuvenation and revitalization, even as people decry their loss.  Readers have begun noticing how much more fun it is to shop with real people than online. Realization is dawning that—like breaded, fried fast food versus a slow-cooked home supper—faster and cheaper is not always better (and that the price difference might not be as high as one might think, either).

That’s why I wrote The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: to celebrate this way of life that some proclaim dead or dying.  And that’s why I cried in the middle of Ann Patchett’s acceptance speech for “Most Engaging Author” at BookExpo America, when she recited the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V while all these pictures of people who run bookstores flashed on the screen. Sweet people. People standing behind messy counters, in front of orderly shelves, hippies in scarves and skirts standing next to well-coiffed people in tailored suits, people who dress and think completely different from one another, arms entwined and smiling.

God love us, we are the ones who keep the barbarians from the gates. We keep a stall in the marketplace for stuff that lets people think for themselves. We take the financial risks of hand-selling things we think are good, even if they’re not commercially viable. We take trade-ins; we make staff pick shelves; we listen, listen, listen to our customers, and offer suggestions based on what they said, rather than who paid us for  a pop-up ad.

We can’t be bought, but boy-o can we sell.

I cried the whole time those pictures flashed. We are the little guys, the reeds still standing in the wind because we’re flexible, smart, and fast. What we do is so important: we help people think; we help them express themselves. And when they express themselves in particularly charming, compelling ways, we give other people a chance to hear those words that never will get made into movies.

What Ann Patchett and William Shakespeare say is true; sometimes the little guys win. Here’s tae us!

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