Tag Archives: used books

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!

 

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

Patience–or a Good Single Malt

Wednesday is Jack’s blog-writing day. Enjoy!

Patience is a virtue, and we haven’t got any in our bookstore. Wendy and I regularly have some permutation of this conversation: “Nobody ever buys [sports/economics/self-help/old decorating books] so let’s get rid of them.”

Then, just before we gather them into a box for crafting purposes, someone comes to the check-out with a beatific smile and an armful of the “impossible sells” and says something along the lines of “It’s so hard to find these nowadays! How delightful that you have some! I’m going to tell everybody about this place.”

I think it’s a combination of wanting a tidy shop, finally coming to the end of our shelf space (Do you hear that, Wendy?!) and paranoia that we’re wasting what little we have left when it could better be used for a popular category: to wit, Vampires.

Oddly enough, the “wait patiently” game reminds me of when we sold our 1706 gatehouse in England before moving to the States permanently. The real estate man told us that because it was a quirky historic property we shouldn’t expect to sell straight off, but rest assured that somewhere out there someone was certainly looking for just such a quirky 1700s historic property. All we needed was patience. And sure enough, eight months later, he was proven right.

Patience, and single malt.

So we try to have patience, reminding ourselves that there is a book for everyone, and everyone for a book. Especially at Christmas, when desperate shoppers pick up things like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and say, “He likes travel; this’ll do.”

It’s the thought that counts. And of course, when the thoughts bounce off the target, we’ll be seeing those books back again. Ah, yes – back again? Patience, dear!

It’s all part of the circle of bookshop life.

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Thank you, Mr. S

The sweetest note arrived at our bookstore late last week. I opened the hand-addressed envelope and a ten-dollar bill fell out.

Good start.

The accompanying letter was from Mike S of Rhode Island, who said he’d come across my book in a used bookstore in Connecticut (Book Barn) and picked it up for a fiver. (Which settles one of the questions that Jack, my agent Pamela, and I have been debating: how long would it take for Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, a book about a used bookstore, to hit the used books market? 32 days.)

But those of you who have read it know that Chapter 24 (or so) deals with how artists do or don’t get paid for their work, pointing out that resale rarely benefits the creator, etc. etc. Mike said he enjoyed the book so much, he felt he had to send me something as the creator of it, hence the ten-spot. Now isn’t that sweet, kind, genteel?

But Mike also pointed out something that’s been on my mind since my NYC discussion with Nichole (my editor at St. Martin’s Press) last month, when she emphasized that only 5% of all booksales in America are through independent bricks-and-mortar shops. Mike (clearly a man of discerning tastes) likened the rise of little bookshops everywhere to the craft beer industry. A market that used to have just three or four big and basic tastes now has microbreweries everywhere–and those little guys have put the social back into drinking. They’ve returned fun to a business that was sinking under its own weight.

Smallness can revolutionize homogeneous bigness. Etsy is doing so for crafters in other materials besides hops; I have friends selling their gorgeous homemade pottery and knitwear–stuff Walmart will never see and that will outlast anything you buy there–for reasonable prices on that small-creators site. And of course, Jack and I run the classic example of a little bookstore: independent, used, and ours. No corporate manuals, no CEO other than Val-Kyttie (whose every whim is catered to, natch).

So, Mr. Mike, as I said in my return thank you note–a thank you note for a thank you note? Anyway–you have done me three good turns: added an example to the thought path I’m headed down, this juxtaposition of little bigness in the American marketplace; gave Jack, Andrew, and me a laugh when that $10 fell to the floor; and funded kitten kibble for the home team. Staff kitten Owen Meany says, “Thank you, Mr. S.”

So say we all.

 

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“Hey Buddy, Wanna Buy an Encyclopedia?”

Remember these?

One of the downers of running a pre-loved books store is the number of used books one sees that have, quite simply, passed their sell-by date. It is just conceivable that Guidepost Annuals will live on–after all, how can stories of angelic intervention really get old–but the Twentieth Century Books of World Records, the yearly Reader’s Digest Estate Planners, and the encyclopedias … well, the sun has set on the Brittanic empire.

Try telling that to the sweet people who lumber through our shop doors, sagging beneath the weight of a box of  encyclopedias. Here are a few of our favorite “sales pitches”:

“I’ve got some real valuable old books here, from 1943, the whole set! Except for V. How much do you give for antique books?” These were World Books; on finding we did not deem his haul valuable, the gentleman protested, “But in the middle of the war and all, nobody knowing who would win, it’s gotta be worth something!”

“Hi. I brought you a 1976 set of alphabetized encyclopedias, and I’ve got a real good idea of how you can sell ‘em. Find people born in 1976 whose names begin with those letters, and advertise these as gifts to their families!” (This customer was disappointed to learn she would not receive half the assumed purchase amount in cash.)

“I’ve got a set of encyclopedias in my car; can you use them? I’ll just give them to you.” When we suggested she put them on the front porch in our free bin, because with Christmas coming people would be happy to have these hardbacks to make trees and angels, the woman’s eyes took on a cunning look. “Oh, well, if people can use them, then can I have trade credit after all? I figured you’d just throw them away after I left.”

And a customer who, being told we couldn’t use them but she could leave them on the porch for people to take for free, huffed, “Well, where’s the nearest dumpster?”

Do not go gently into that good night….

(The Big Stone Celtic Festival is Sept. 22 in downtown Big Stone Gap, VA! Google Big Stone Celtic for program details.)

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“Of Course You Are”

As it is sometimes wont to do, our phone died at the bookshop. We jiggled some wires and then called The Phone Company. They dispatched someone. He arrived 37 hours after they promised he would.

A nice guy, “Steve” smiled at us, jiggled something, went outside, came back and jiggled something again, then said, “Fixed.”

And it was. Steve asked to wash his hands (whatever he’d jiggled was dusty) and be pointed to Peter Straub.

“You like horror?” asked my husband, leading him through the maze that used to be our kitchen, and is now an intricate system of one-way tunnels walled by books.

“I am the author of a horror novel,” said Steve, hauling a card from his shirt pocket and handing it to Jack. “Self-published my first this month! It’s 99 cents on Amazon this weekend if you download it to Kindle.” He then bought four Straubs.

So now we have several spaces in our horror shelf inventory, someone to lead this October’s adult scary stories night, and a phone that works. Hey ho, just another day in the bookshop.

Don’t forget to enter Caption Contest V! You can see the picture by scrolling down to yesterday’s blog; leave your caption entry under “Comments.” First prize is a free copy of ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.’

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Why I am a Bookshoptimist

We hear a lot these days about how bricks and mortar bookstores are closing, the big ones often taken down by Amazonians shooting fiery economic spread sheets. But below the radar, humming along in strip malls and back corners and converted garages, people are still selling books: like Debbie out in Buffalo, Missouri, who took $800 from her life’s savings, bought a dormer and set it on a concrete slab, then called her friends to bring their cast-offs. That’s how she opened. She’s still there.

So is Ann in Philadelphia, who just celebrated her second anniversary as a new-and-used store AND just adopted Amelia, the first shop staff-cat. And Joe in Tupelo, who went down to his Barnes and Noble with flyers announcing the opening hours and trade credit policies of his independent used bookstore, and stuck them to the windshields of the cars parked there.

Over Christmas 2011 Jack and I visited 42 independent bookstores in 10 states; the trip is in my book, but the day-by-day visits make up the BOOKING DOWN THE ROAD TRIP section of this blog site. Some incredible, resilient people out there are running bookshops.

They know, as Jack and I do, that bookstores are so much more than retail concerns: intellectual pubs, the place where people find someone to talk to; quiet places in which to catch your breath for fifteen browsing minutes; where you can find the books that will never be made into movies, never make landfall on a top ten list, but whose gentle stories deserve notice; the watering hole of human spirits that may not even be all that like-minded, but unite in believing that commercial viability isn’t the sole criterion for ranking an idea’s importance.

Plus, bookstores are part of that diminishing “third space” network made up of neighborhood diners, family greenhouses, little yarn shops, and the other places not run from a national office or housed in a box store–those “third spaces” where we are not part of the office staff, nor fulfilling a designated role in a family, but being ourselves. Just ourselves.

Remember when farmers markets made a comeback? A backlash erupted against the fast food lifestyle: too much sodium, too little quality. I think American consumers are beginning to feel the same about bookstores. Readers have returned to awareness of 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).

A growing number of customers eschew the “savings” of buying online, recognizing that “bargain” hides costs too dear to pay–losing a lifestyle of strolling to the corner shop and talking to other bibliophiles browsing the shelves, severing human connections. It makes us happy to know that Flossie (Union Ave), Cheryl (Burke’s), Jennifer (Wise Old Owl) and the rest are out there offering access, ambiance and advice. I’ll pay more to keep them there, because what they do for us is priceless. I think other people will, too.

Just call us bookshoptimists.

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Eight Needleworkers, Seven Kittens, Two Camera Crews and a Bookstore in a Pear Tree

I really don’t know how we get ourselves into these situations. Last night a film crew came to the bookstore to film some promotional video about our shop and my book. They chose Tuesday evening because we have a weekly stitch-n-bitch in which the shop fills with lively, cheerful babes wielding long needles. VERY photogenic.

But the day before, we got a call from the animal rescue we work with: a family of shelters kitties’ number was up. Sure, of course, bring them over. Then St. Martin’s Press (my publisher) called: they needed a head shot of Jack and me together, by 11 pm. We called our friend Elissa, a pro photographer who promised to run by after work and shoot us. (You can see her massive body of work on Facebook: search for elp6n.)

That’s how two camera crews, eight Needleworking Babes, and seven identical grey fluffballs landed in our shop at more or less the same moment last night. It got a little crazy.  The kittens ran for yarn bundles and cubbyholes, mewing too loudly to leave out during the camera work. The camera crew busily set up lights larger than some of our shelves, as needleworkers ducked under and around them. Elissa had Jack and I backed against a shelf and was bracketing away. The women made boisterous jokes as they pulled out their yarn and eyed the huge camera–and the hunky cameraman. I glanced up from Elissa’s blinding flash at one point to see Tyler the Cameraman traversing the bookstore on his knees, arms extended to shepherd the septuplets into the mystery room. As he corralled errant kittens, Tyler said with a radiant smile, “This is so cool!”

The women, watching his butt wiggle across the floor, grinned too.

That’s when the door opened and a professor friend walked in, saying to someone behind him, “And you’ll love our town bookstore; it’s such a calm, elegant place.” Tyler’s backside was to her, and a kitten had just skittered past him–to be scooped up by a needlework babe, glass of wine in one hand, yarn in the other. The kitten promptly attacked the wineglass as Elissa’s camera did a rapid series of blue strobe lights in the newcomer’s face.

Witold, an academic friend featured in my book, often introduces the new professors in town to our shop as part of the community tour. He hadn’t called ahead. This was a miscalculation.

“Melanie” the new Spanish Professor watched the chaos with one raised eyebrow and a smile spread across her face like a shield. We broke from kitten-wrangling and photo ops to say hello and offer her a chair.

She waved a hand in negation. “No no, I can’t stay long, and I can see that you’re busy.”

I think her voice had an edge of panic to it.

So we got the kittens fed and enclosed and the film finished and the photos snapped and had a good time with the needleworkers, laughing and flirting and cutting up for the video. Everyone went home about 9:30. (We know how to party, but we’re old.)

And Witold sent me a text message: I asked Melanie her impression of the bookstore, and she said, “Surreal.”

Welcome aboard, Mel. Would you like a book, or a kitten?

Don’t forget to enter Caption Contest IV for a chance to win a free copy of “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” Check the July 29 blog for the photo and current entries.

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