Twenty Shades of Grey

Twenty shades of grey: that about sums up the four hours we spent driving the Natchez Trace Parkway this morning, from Franklin, TN to Tupelo, MS. That and the rain pounding its merry tattoo on our car’s roof…. if you’ve ever read Ray Bradbury’s stories about Venus, you’ll understand how we were beginning to feel.

It takes a strong marriage to survive four hours on the Parkway in December during a downpour. Jack and I are still speaking to one another, and we count this as good.

But it was all worth it for the bookstores we visited in Tupelo, two charming places of very different approaches and attitude. Greatest Hits is a bookstore-cum-used movies, CDs and games outlet run by Joe. He opened the place three and a half years ago and is going strong. His store is upbeat and messy, like himself. (Frankly, if Joe doesn’t drive a VW bus, he should.)

We bounced across the street to a local diner, then made a beeline for the Wise Old Owl, a messy little paperback bookstore that’s been in business more than fifteen years. Jennifer, the woman running it now bought out her parents about two years ago. The snakes-and-ladders shelving arrangement kept dumping me back in westerns, but Jennifer was a hoot (sorry) to talk to. As with Joe, discussion quickly turned to a favorite subject of used book shop keepers: how do you keep the swap credit within genres, so all the trade-ins aren’t romances and the take-outs sci fi and fantasy?

We spent over an hour each with Joe and Jennifer, talking shop. Joe had no idea what he was getting into when he opened his shop–and like Jack and me, he’d pulled a couple of stunts to keep himself open. Like taking a stack of his flyers down to the Barnes and Noble on the bypass, and putting one on the windshield of each car. Go, Joe!!! Jennifer, having practically grown up in her parents’ shop, knew more about the business when she started. But she told us something interesting: she has no advertising budget.

More and more, I’m convinced that the things business centers tell you are essential, are really just convenient to them. 14 years later, Jennifer is still there, sans marketing plan. Jack and I started with no marketing plan, and here we are, happy, healthy and still in business five years on.

So much for experts. Perhaps experts only want to make more people who look like themselves.

Tomorrow we conquer Oxford, MS and Memphis, TN. I wonder if they’ll notice….

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Twenty Shades of Grey

  1. Joe Haynes

    Really enjoyed the visit from book store owner friends from a ways up the road.Glad you enjoyed the grub across the street at Romie’s Grocery. Just like you guys, I usually buy books about books when I visit other stores too. Stop in again if you are ever back through these parts.

    • We will! And there are a bunch of people in Big Stone Gap who want to meet you. Apparently the VW bug ethos piqued their interest. What can we say? Hippies clump together. Hope they visit you if they’re out that way.

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