Tag Archives: shopsitting

Meet Mark and Sally, Bookshop Sitters

Mark and Sally Smith are watching the bookshop while Jack and I slip away for a holiday. They originally planned to come last October, when Little Bookstore was published and our original request for shopsitters went viral. In their Memphis house, Mark in the kitchen and Sally in the bedroom each heard on NPR’s Weekend Edition how we were looking for someone to mind the place while we went on book tour, and rendezvoused in the car on the way to church.

“Want to?” asked Mark.

“That would be so much fun,” Sally replied, and Mark fired off an email. Only, instead of sending it from Mark to Jack, he sent it from their Labrador, Red, to our Labrador, Zora.

Andrew at partyThat pretty much guaranteed we were gonna choose them, but it turned out the dates we needed clashed with some family commitments. So Andrew Whalen shopsat instead, and he was wonderful, and Mark and Sally said they’d get up with us next time.

Which is this week. Jack and I are flying to Istanbul for our 15th wedding anniversary, Christmas 2012 and 2013, combined birthdays and Valentine’s Day, plus celebration of Little Bookstore’s success. When we knew we wanted to go, we called Mark and Sally.

“You really want to?” Mark asked Sally, with his hand over the phone.

“In a heartbeat,” Sally said.

IMG_3644That’s how this couple rolls. Both lost their life partners several years ago, and Sally was volunteering as a docent at the Memphis Public Library, and attending a book club there, when Mark walked in.

“I don’t remember what book it was, I don’t remember what she said about it, I don’t remember a thing about that night except that Sally was sitting there taking up all my brain space,” he said.

He asked her out. Sally, primed ahead of time by friends, said, “I’ll drive myself and meet you there.”

15 months later, they formed a partnership. And they still go to book clubs. And out to dinner, but in one car.

They drove here Friday past to get their feet wet running the shop one whole day, before Jack and I abandon them to ValKyttie’s tender mercies and fly off. Since Sally has been staffing the Memphis Library’s secondhand books store for a few hours each week, and Mark never met a fuzzy creature he didn’t know how to charm, the place is in good hands. As Sally said, “I’ve always loved books, and I’ve always enjoyed people, so I kinda always thought I’d run a bookstore someday.”

And now she is. So come visit Sally and Mark if you’re in the area. They’ll stay through the last Saturday in April, then head back to Memphis because they have a hot ticket to attend the Annual Payroll Convention in Grapevine, Texas.

I know, but Mark says it’s wild fun. And we feel good knowing they’ll have no trouble computing sales tax.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Cookie Extortion

Jack returned shopsitter Andrew Whalen to his ancestral home on Sunday; Andrew’s mom drove down US 23, and Jack drove up it. It was a painless and swift swap.

Except now we have this hole in the bookstore. . .

The dogs lie about with doleful expressions. “Where’s that guy who rubbed our ears and plied us with chewy sticks?” their eyes ask.

Owen Meany, staff kitten, has never been the sharpest pencil in the pack, but even he has figured out that someone’s missing. This morning he stood on my face with an alarmed expression and informed me that the guest bedroom was empty. Then he bit my nose.

Meanwhile, without our steady, sensible shopsitter, Jack and I have braced ourselves for the boxes of books that come in during Christmas clean-outs. Lots of people trade over the holidays, in large measure because we have a “Boxing Day” tradition of giving out little boxes of shortbread as part of the deal, Dec. 26-31.

Which brings me to the mean thing I did to Andrew’s mom….

Tammy Whalen runs a company, COOKIE GLASS, that makes the most exquisite baked goods. Little flat ones with butterscotch chips, big thick ones with oatmeal, melty chocolate chunks . . . these babies are GOOOOOOOOOD.

When Andrew’s parents showed up unexpectedly about a month into his sojourn with us, she brought a dozen or so with her. My friend Elizabeth and I promptly sent Andrew to fetch a bucket of steam, and ate our way through the bag, moaning in pleasure. I think the poor kid got two.

That’s how we knew any amount of subterfuge was worth it to get more of these beauts. (They’re not expensive. And she ships. Check out COOKIE GLASS on FB, but make sure you get the company; there’s a couple of people by that name. Heh.)

Shamelessly, I composed a ransom note to Andrew’s mom, explaining that for one dozen cookies, her son would be returned unharmed. For two dozen, he would be returned without any rescue kittens stuffed in his hoodie pockets. (The bookstore fosters shelter cats.)

She bit; Jack and I are now guilty yet proud possessors of two dozen cookies in a beautiful green box with a gold mesh bow. We will be taking them to our friends Ashia and Witold’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, and the Whalens will be remembered fondly amid eye-rolling estatic bites.

In all honesty, I suspect anything this family does is done right. The cookies are brilliant. Andrew was brilliant. Having spent his early career in children’s television production and independent film-making, he will return to Brooklyn after Thanksgiving–during which, he informed us, the family gets to eat all the broken cookies during holiday production, so he didn’t begrudge our ill-gotten loot–to seek new employment, having packed in his Asst. Producer job in search of more challenges.

Jack and I have no doubt he will be snapped up by someone who recognizes that a sensible mind able to isolate and solve problems, keep order, create community and offer excellent customer service is rare and valuable. Wherever they go, Andrew and his equally steadfast female friend Ali will come right in the world–and do good in it.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, publishing, shopsitting, small town USA