Tag Archives: used book shops

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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Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

The Smoking Bookgun (from the declassified Whalen files)

Sometimes people walk into Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore. I believe they are what keen observers of human society would call “customers.” These customers are a varied and mysterious breed. And while my previous training had suggested their intent was most often to “buy” things using “money,” I have been surprised by the variety of encounters possible within this scenario.

What follows is just one of the many stories from…

The Declassified Whalen Customer Files

A common story from people who have worked with titles, whether it be videos or books, is the customer asking after something that’s just on the tip of their tongue. And while they can’t quite remember the ISBN, title, genre, or author, there is always a single fact: The Smoking Bookgun (I’d watch a movie called that). It may be the book’s shape or size, or the main character’s maiden name, but they’ll definitely remember something.

Of course I now have those stories of my very own. In fact, I was tempted to thank the first customer who brought me my first Smoking Bookgun Mystery. But while I knew about these encounters beforehand, I was surprised by two new elements.

The first is how often the mystery ends up solved. People have come in with little more than a twinkle in their eye, but given enough time we’ll eventually find the right thing. My first guess after you say, “I’m looking for this book… it’s blue,” may very well be, “Oh, you mean Laguna Beach: Season 1 on DVD? Yeah, we’ve got that.” But humans have a remarkable capacity for seeking common ground and paring down large groupings into small. It turns out we’re all pretty awesome at it.

Plus, the Internet exists now.

So yes, it may have taken 45 minutes, but eventually I’ll get to mispronounce most of: “here’s your copy of Verlag Von Gerlach & Wielding’s Völkerschmuck! Auf Wiedersehen!” So it doesn’t matter if you’re not sure exactly what book you have in mind. Roll the dice. Your odds are better than you think.

The second element that surprised me was a novel new twist on the quest for that one book you heard about that one time at the family BBQ from your cousin who is totally in the CIA and carried it with him for like six months until the cover wore off and he could really use a new copy before flying off to I-Can’t-Tell-You-Where-Because-It’s-Top-Secret-Stan. I have now been asked on several occasions to track a book based on another fictional character reading it within a movie. That’s right, the only smoking bookgun is a fictional recommendation from Tom Hanks before he went off to make out with Meg Ryan or date a mermaid or whatever else Tom Hanks is up to these days.

Sometimes I can help with this. But if you want that one scroll that Gandalf was reading in the library in the Tower of Ecthelion, we probably don’t have it.

All this said, I make no promises and have no special powers. We may never find that one book that was about this big and about this thick. But I have now my own small contribution to the long and storied tradition of “customers not knowing what they want” narratives. With that complete, I look forward to your stumpers and promise not to respond with any variety of droll, knowing smirk.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

An Intimate Evening

The last stop in Philadelphia was in Manayunk, with Ann (and staff cat Amelia) of the Spiral Bookcase. Spiral Bookcase is full of recessed shelving in white wood with graceful arches and elegant long-necked martini-shaped lights hanging from the ceiling. In short, it’s gorgeous–and Jack’s worst nightmare, because I aspire to “gorgeous” instead of “cheerfully chaotic” in our own store. Ann and Amelia keep the place tidy without it looking military, and its charm swings between the old world gentility of Philly overall, and the energy that young Ann, a DC escapee trained as a folklorist, brings to the mix. (Folklore and ethnography are the same degree, BTW. Ethnography is the “cover” name for folklore on the academic market, as it sounds more encompassing of power structures and psychology, while folklore rings redolent of fairies and plant lore.)

And Ann has LOTS of energy. She is in with the bricks, only two years into her shop. As Jack and I wandered the streets of Manayunk, weaving in and out of wee specialty shops, the Philly-friendly shopkeepers often asked what brought us to town. Well, ask an author in for a book signing that question, and you’re going to get the mother load. Inevitably, the shopkeeper would say, “Oh, so you’re the author Ann has in! I got her email.” Turns out that Ann is not only known, liked and respected (three different things) by the Shopkeepers of Manayunk, she also runs a fall festival and with her husband tries to keep nearby Pretzel Park green and family-friendly. Community: Ann builds and guards it.

We talked about this as we prepared for the signing; she said her shop was as much a space for like-minded minds as a retail concern, that she sold books but also anchored a growing community of “the new kids on the block” —literally. Manayunk has seen recent upgrades and accompanying upheavals, and while it hasn’t quite got everyone on the same team, it has a big enough team of same-siders to be getting stuff done.

I guess all that was on my mind when we started the book signing. A dozen people crammed into the tiny space, knees toward the center and inevitably touching someone else’s, so it was intimate from the word go. Intimate in a nice way, because almost all the attendees were customers Ann knew by name: Suzan the poet; Brittany the part-time shop assistant; Joanna, a local grant writer for the resident dance company; Carol an avid reader who along with another attendee had serious thoughts about starting a used books store someday.

In fact, the whole evening hinged around two concepts: starting a bookstore, and creating community. The participants asked erudite and deep-reaching questions about what each entailed, like “how did you know when you were actually bringing community together, as opposed to people just being quiet and muttering?” Everyone offered thoughts and observations, and laughed at our earnest statement that we thought Manayunk pulled together more than any of the other places we’d seen, and that although we’d only been here two days, we considered it the New Jerusalem of “save downtown and shop local.”

The evening couldn’t have been nicer. On the silly side, Jack discovered “Peeps,” those seasonal marshmallow candies covered in day-glo sugar colors. He found them rather “more-ish” and ate about half the box Suzan brought–which Suzan considered very cute.  Guys with Scottish accents can get away with anything.

On the lovely side, Ann is a kindred spirit, a student of one of my academic folklore heroes, Dr. Erika Brady. As we traded notes and munched pizza after the event, Ann said that she used her ethnographic background more as a community bookshop owner than she had in her job in the archives of DC, which had required the degree to get in the first place.

“Knowing and understanding the people who come in, discerning the patterns of the community, supporting both: that’s the best use of my degree yet,” she said.

Amen, sister.

These photos were mostly taken by Joanna “Jo” Mullins, the grant writer mentioned at the beginning of the blog. That’s shop owners Ann and Amelia (on Ann’s lap) to the right, downtown Manayunk on the left.

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Jack’s Take on (parts of) Philadelphia

Jack gives Wendy an afternoon off to take a long, hot bath, and offers his impressions of the glorious charm that is Philly.

In the 1980s and early 1990s I toured around Europe with my folk-band Heritage and then, with my band mate George, branching into the States. The book tour on which Wendy and I are currently engaged has reminded me very much of those days: driving long miles between gigs, meeting lots of interesting and engaging folk, and swinging between fast food and gourmet meals. Last night we stepped slightly away from the book activities to give a house concert organized by Eileen and Ray, the friends we stayed with here in Philadelphia (in the wonderful and palatial house of their friends Jean and Pat). House concerts are a peculiarly American concept, and this one was well attended by folk who joined in every chorus with more enthusiasm than I’ve experienced in a long time (including the rather silly ‘Railway Porter’ and the infamous ‘Counting Backwards Song’ which some adults won’t sing because they always get the numbers wrong). ‘Twas a lovely night.

This morning we discovered a real bookstore-owning character in the shape of Greg Williams of ‘Walk a Crooked Mile Books.’ The shop is half of an old train station and a gloriously riotous and ramshackle building on the historic register, with bookshelves stuffed everywhere you can imagine (including, to Wendy’s delight, the bathroom). Outside he has a ready-made amphitheater where he puts on frequent music events. Greg proved very willing to spend time chatting and comparing notes about the things bookstore owners tend to have in common: borderline poverty, endless boxes of donations, and the joyful exuberance of getting to run one.

Crooked Mile’s staff cat Cici sat silent and plump at our feet during our discussion. Greg said she hadn’t so much applied for the job as created the position; she appeared one day “and that was that.”

It is hard to convey the delight one feels at finding a kindred bookslinger. Greg is a shelf-building, free-thinking, problem-solving kind of guy with a long white beard and eyes crinkly with laugh lines. We started trading book questions: “Do you make people pay half in cash, or will you take all trade credit?” “What do you do with older paperback fiction?” “Do you ever get….” Etc. We did etc. for about an hour, until other customers entered and we said farewell.

Tomorrow we’ll tell you about our book signing at The Spiral Bookcase. Today, we bask in the glow of knowing there are other shops stuffed to the gills with the eternal library of human knowledge, run by bookslingers who know the value of what we contribute to the world.

BTW, Greg also writes a blog, which can be found at http://www.walkacrookedmilebooks.com

(Cici, the shop cat, proved camera shy. This is the best we could do.)

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Uncategorized

The Sweetest Shop

Ruth, who owns BOOK PEOPLE in Richmond, VA, called the Flatiron Building in NYC about three months ago, and said more or less verbatim “ThisisthesweetestbookaboutlifeandmostaptdescriptionofthewholeprocessofrrunningabookshopI’veeverreadcouldIpleasecontacttheauthor?”
At least, that’s how Laura and Nichole described it to me later. So we set up an event with this lovely secondhand book shop – something publishers don’t do much of, second-hand being somewhat anathema to the idea of selling a new book – and I got to meet Ruth face to face.

I’d had a telephone conversation with her, so the words “cool character” had already formed in the back of my mind, but Ruth is an absolute hoot. She gets things done. She embodies common sense, has a wicked sense of humor, and sports a “don’t let my white hair fool you; I can cut you at the knees if warranted” demeanor.

Two examples: When an accident in downtown Richmond meant we would be breezing in five minutes before the signing was to start, Jack phoned to explain, and she said, “OH! Are you hurt? Are you okay?” Solicitous, maternal.

When we arrived with three minutes to spare and I asked where the rest room was, she said with deadpan demeanor, “This is a small store. We use the bushes out back.”

I like Ruth a whole, whole lot.

And she proves the point of my constant saying that a bookstore is the owner’s heart turned inside out for public display. Ruth’s shop was perfectly alphabetized, the shelves tacked with white cards with haphazard printing of the genres contained thereon. And those shelves went every place, like this season’s corn mazes. Boxes of books in front of them, and a card tacked to the shelf they blocked, suggesting “Reach; it’s worth it!” Boxes of books under the front display table. Boxes of books outside the bathroom door (yeah, in case you were wondering; they did have one). Piles of books stacked spines out at the sides of shelves, neatly continuing the alphabetization.

Like Ruth, the shop was a mixture of practical solutions, a well-mannered chaos, and crafty humor. Ruth had two women working with her, and I regret that I never heard their names. By the time we made the store, about 15 people had gathered. Again, a couple of ex-pat Big Stone Gappers had heard the radio spots on 98 FM (thank you, DJ Kat Martin, a character herself!) and come out to say hi. Two storytelling pals, Linda and Jane, appeared. And Jodi and Tyler came with their spouses-to-be. (For those of you who don’t remember these two, scroll back into September and read the blog about the night the film crew was in our bookshop. Tyler is the kitten wrangler with the cute butt, Jodi the anchorwoman in the Shades of Grey spoof we put on YouTube.)

We chatted with the assembly; now that the book’s been out a week, some people have read it, besides the booksellers. It’s intriguing (and happi-fying) to me that the feud between Val-Kyttie and Beulah–which is a thin cover story for how small towns can act–is one of the first things people ask about. Hunh. Fur covers a multitude of metaphors, but of course the cats will just take the accolades as their due, when we get back to the shop and tell them they’re famous.

In short, last night was sweet. Ruth’s shop felt like home. It felt like our place. And one of the nicest things in the whole evening was my friends who had come out saying, “Wow! I had no idea this was here, but now I’m going to tell people.” Ruth’s shop is not downtown, but oh glory, it’s worth the drive.

And isn’t this the point? Little bookshops everywhere, thriving because people find them, and like them, and bring friends to them. Hallelujah. Or more appropriately, Kum Ba Yah. Often and repeatedly. Because Ruth and her rabbit maze of books are so very, very worth the trip. And there are more Ruths out there, holding civilization together with thumbtacks and white card signs and wicked senses of humor.

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Our First Bookstore Wedding

It’s been quite the month here at Tales of the Lonesome Pine New and Used Books. We’re in full-on publicity mode for the Oct. 2 book launch, have got Andrew the shopsitter comfortably installed, and just packed up Big Stone Celtic Festival.

Now we are very much looking forward to this Sunday, when we host the first ever bookshop wedding. Rachael and Wes have decided to tie the knot, and they’re doing it on our shop floor, as part of our monthly Society of Friends meeting (aka Quakers).

It’s very sweet. Here’s a pic of Wes and Rachael marching in the Big Stone Celtic parade Saturday past. They’re the ones in yellow tees, just walking out of frame.

Stuffing 45 or so guests into the shop may prove a challenge, but this is why Jack put some of the shelves on wheels–a practical tip we picked up from other bookshops during the Booking Down the Road Trip last Christmas.

It will be a Quaker ceremony, with the Presbyterian pastor from up the road–who knows Wes and Rachael from the monthly ideas discussion group they attend together here–officiating over  government requirements involving licenses and signatures. The couple will be wearing street clothes, flowers limited to the usual Quaker tradition of having a plant on the table– symbolizing life and growth and thanks for God’s bounty–and the staff cats as bridal attendants.   (Owen Meany is beside himself at the prospect of getting to carry the ring. We have practiced not swallowing it.)

And beneath the planning and the paperwork and ceremonial elements, something like a heart beats. We are so proud that Wes and Rachael chose this place, where–as they often say–they found a community to belong to and a faith they could sustain and be sustained by, to make this life commitment. The fact that Wes has been a worker bee here on many days when we needed a pinch-hitter means he knows our regular customers as well as Jack and I do. He’s part of the team that makes this a Third Place for everyone else.

So we’re very much looking forward to what could, if one wanted to wax sentimental, be described as a baptism of love washing over the books and the bookstore’s core people. And we’re excited; weddings are just plain great, especially when couples see them as a community display of what they already live privately. Wes and Rachael belong together, and the bookstore–physical books, Quaker society, and customer community–belongs to them.

It’s a full circle.

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The Best Part is still People

OK, so in just under two weeks I’ll be an official author, with my book launched. Thus it’s only right that I get to sit back on my newly-minted laurels and pontificate about the authorial life, right?

Actually it’s not a far stretch, because the coolest thing about being an author is the coolest thing about being a bookseller: the people that you meet.

People like Kim Beattie (Goodwill Librarian on FB) Robert Gray (Shelf Awareness columnist) Jennifer and Harte and Sarah (booksellers at Ebenezer Books in VT and Bookstore Plus in NY) to name a few of the new friends in the bookslinging crowd, plus some wacko bibliophiles on Twitter and a whole bunch of authors and about a thousand really lovely people who are READERS.

Readers make the world turn. And they’re interesting souls. A couple of publicity things I did recently netted a whole bunch of people emailing to say hi, and telling me about their library experiences as young’uns: how they had to pay fees because they were out in the county, or how their local library closed because the town grew too small to support it; or their work in various bookstores across the States (and England and Canada, in two cases) and the bookstores that are special to them –one woman is driving back across two states to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a bookstore in her hometown–or how they read real books to their grandchildren in shelf-lined rooms with comfy armchairs.

They are so very, very sweet, these human connections made from books. (And granted, they’re being made on computer, but still it’s just like sitting down with a cup of tea and talking to the people who email; I swear in some cases I picture the person with a mug, in others holding a china cup and saucer, without even thinking about it.)

So maybe that’s the coolest thing about books in general: they always come back to people. That’s the people who wrote them and put their ideas out there for us to enjoy (or shred); the people who gather around them to talk and laugh and discuss; the people who sell them to us and ask us what we thought about them and listen to what the book brought up in us, for better or for worse; and the people who read them, and validate those who write.

Huzzah for book people! You are a great tribe and I’m so happy to be a part of you.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA