Tag Archives: bookstores

A Story within a Story within a Signature

Wendy is on a tight writing deadline before holidays next week, so Jack takes up the keyboard and presents this guest blog.

We often have folk come in to ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ bookstore carrying a copy of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and hoping to meet Wendy. They come from all over the country and even from other countries. Their personal tales frequently carry on a theme of the book, that the customers’ stories are as important as those in the books we sell.

One of the other conversations in Wendy’s book was about the fact that some products that are sold on from one owner to another only benefit the creator the first time they’re sold – houses, books etc. The result of the exchange was that there wasn’t much to be done about it, nor should there be. Another question was how long  ‘The Little Bookstore’ would circulate in used book stores.

To our great amusement we received a lovely card from a fan in New York a couple of months after the first publication, saying how much he’d enjoyed the book and that he’d bought it for $10 in a used book store. He enclosed a $10 bill just to prove that the author was wrong!

But today topped that. (Drum roll, please….)

Three couples had been through the store today looking for Wendy, so when I looked out the window and saw a woman holding a copy of the book and the husband taking pictures, I knew what they were about. Sure enough, Carol and Paul were on a trip back to Cary, NC and came the long way through Big Stone Gap to see the bookstore because they loved the book and follow Wendy’s blog.

However, their story had a twist. Carol loved Wendy’s book, which she’d paid $5.99 for in a used book store, already signed to someone called Laura. And she’d come to get Wendy to sign it again, having read the conversations about second hand books in Little Bookstore.

We had a lovely chat (they are also cat lovers) and then I signed her copy and so did Wendy – but check out the picture to see how she did it.

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May the circle be unbroken, Laura – wherever you are!

 

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In Which Jack Pontificates on Customer Service

Jack’s weekly guest blog traces the odd path from management guru to bookseller

It’s funny the things that come into your mind!

Way back when, I was working in my college in Scotland at a time when ‘Heid Bummers’ (Principal and Depute Principal) were under pressure to flatten the rather hefty management hierarchy and make things more dynamic. They set out to radically restructure the staffing, and for some reason they had been watching me and decided that I had a much more ‘collegiate’ model for working with my colleagues than the rest of the staff in my department. Thus I was appointed Head of Department and told to “make them more collegiate.” After a couple of rocky years, things settled down and I’m proud to say that I eventually won everyone round to my way of working.

Some years later I wound up teaching management courses and ultimately studied for, and gained my MBA from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. As part of those studies, of course, I did a lot of research into organizational structures, management styles, team dynamics, marketing and motivational theories.

Now, anyone who has read ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’ will be wondering how on earth I could think of getting involved in starting our bookstore and even more how we could have made a success of it, given what I’ve described above. But there were some insights I could bring and that we have put into practice. Probably the main one is that the customer is absolutely the first priority, come what may.

I was pondering this today for some reason and found myself picturing a continuum with high staff convenience at one end and high customer convenience at the other and contemplated where we might fit along that line.

Wendy and I had noticed, when we first came here, that businesses in small towns sometimes open and close very randomly on a whim; they might have opening hours posted but you could never be sure until you tried the door. We could never understand this when we visited such places, as it seemed crazy to us. When our chef par-excellence Kelley had to close the café this week to go to Chicago to help her sister recover from surgery, she made sure that all her customers and potential customers knew well ahead of time, and I’m very pleased to say that so far there have been no disappointed regulars.

It’s important to make sure that we are open when we say we will be, so we have both short term and long term ‘shop-sitters’ to ensure that. Everyone who comes through the door is treated with value and respect; we order books for customers when they aren’t in stock, repair battered family Bibles that are family heirlooms and don’t mind if folk just come in for a chat.

So where would be positioned along the line? Of course we’d like to think we’re at the customer focused end, but it’s really difficult to know. There are lots of different factors that can affect the continuing success of a small business in this part of the world – people move in and out of town, the economy takes a dip, a local clique decides to attack, etc.

But one thing I’m certain of – it’s all about the customers!

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Memory Lane

In Jack’s guest post he re-visits his earlier profession –

In the dim and distant past, when I left high school, I began serving my five-year long apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. I went on to work in that trade for many years, eventually teaching the skills in the local college where I had attended part-time as an apprentice. I look back on those days with fond memories and I’m still occasionally reminded of the satisfaction to be had from practicing a set of specialist skills competently.

So to this past weekend; after almost ten years, it was time to re-decorate what had been our upstairs sitting room and is now the main café area. The cozy and warm chestnut colored wallpaper that suited our life-style really didn’t work for a café and the woodwork was getting grubby and worn.

As I proceeded to strip the old wallpaper and prepare everything the memories came flooding back. When it came time to paint the ceiling and woodwork I remembered teaching the students a whole variety of brush skills – knowing what made a good brush, learning to work left or right handed, knowing just how heavily to load the brush with paint, applying the paint without any spattering or misses or runs etc. All this makes it easier, very satisfying and truly rewarding!

Hanging wallpaper is a different kind of challenge and not helped by the almost universal availability of the ‘ready-pasted’ kind. I really, really hate ready-pasted papers with a vengeance. If you use them as directed, you end up with water all over the floor and there’s never enough ‘slip’ to position the paper to match the pattern. So I just paste them anyway! But now it’s hard to find regular common or garden paste any more. So, for the first time in over fifty years I mixed a bucket of flour paste and got it right first time (something I took a while to learn as an apprentice).

As I only had a two-day window of time to complete the work, our good friend David drove over from NC and once again stepped into the breach and became my ‘apprentice’ for the weekend.

Our ‘best-of-the-best’ café manager and chef, Kelley, had popped in from time to time as the work progressed and her broad smile again brought back memories of satisfied customers. I finally made a point of checking with her customers as they sat down to lunch yesterday and they looked up just long enough from the best home-cooking in Wise County to give universal approval!

Enjoy the pictures and tell me what you think –

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Moind me Harp

It’s the morning after the night before – some footage of what we were up to:

In which Jack demonstrates how not to dance!

Here’s our intrepid band ‘Sigean’ and our long suffering dance leader Cynthia West.

Nine years ago we started our annual St Pat’s community ceilidh dance here in the bookstore, but it soon outgrew the available space. Up stepped our good friends at the next door Presbyterian Church who kindly offered their fellowship hall, so that’s where it’s been ever since. Sigean have provided the music at every one of them and Cynthia West and her country dancers have kept a straight face as we did our best to follow their dance instruction.

Slainte Mhath – –

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Kiss me – I’m Irish (kinda!)

In his weekly guest post Jack reflects on his Irish connections

Since I have a fairly distinctive Scots accent it’s not unusual for folk to come into the shop and ask if I’m Irish – go figger. begorrah and jings !

But, actually, I don’t particularly mind as the Celts tend to hang together and I have cousins who were born and live in Ireland so that’s OK. Of course it’s also the time of year when we are approaching St Patrick’s Day so everything is turning green and even Big Stone Gap will have its annual St Pat’s ceilidh dance this Friday. That’s something Wendy and I are involved in organizing since it actually started out in the bookstore. As the space available to dance got smaller we eventually moved a block up the street to a local Church hall and, with the help of our good friends in the Celtic band ‘Sigean’ as well as dance leader Cynthia a goodly crowd have a great time.

However, this year the Irish season gets extended a bit as it’s the Centenary of the 1916 ‘Easter Rising’ – the failed rebellion against British rule which resulted in the shooting by firing squad of the seven leaders but also led eventually to Ireland’s independence.

Even here there is a Scottish connection, as one of the seven executed was James Connolly who was born in Edinburgh. Poor James was badly wounded in the battle, which centered on the General Post Office in Dublin. Not expected to live anyway, he was nevertheless tied to a chair and shot for treason.

Of course it’s hardly surprising that there should be interest in things Irish in this part of the US. We’re very close here to where Danial Boone’s wilderness trail branched off westward from the great wagon trail which brought the ‘Scotch-Irish’ settlers down from Philadelphia. Some continued further South, some headed West into Kentucky, but a great many just stayed hereabouts. They brought their thrawn Presbyterian attitudes with them and being a thrawn Presbyterian myself I find that I fit in real well here!

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If you’re within traveling distance our ceilidh dance starts at 7 pm and is in the Big Stone Gap Presbyterian Church hall just one block up from the bookstore. You aren’t required to dance – you can just come and enjoy the music.

 

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– – – Work for Idle Hands

Jack’s weekly guest blog post –

February (and just imagine a Scotsman’s pronunciation of that word) is always a quiet time in the bookstore as far as customer numbers is concerned. But don’t let that fool you!

This is the time when bookstore owners take care of all the jobs that there’s little space for during the busier months. That’s why we chose now to lay the new floor covering in the bookstore kitchen area.

It’s when we give the place a good clean from top to bottom, look at whether the shelving is appropriate or any repairs are needed, fix that dribbling toilet tank.

Then there are the books we have listed on-line to be re-checked to see if the prices are still competitive and whether any need to be culled and re-shelved in the shop. While we’re doing that we need to check whether customers have also re-shelved any books inappropriately and move them back to their rightful places. This is also a good time to check the alphabetizing by author in the various sections – we don’t have a computerized database of our stock, so that makes it much easier to find things when customers have a specific request.

One of the reasons why this month is quiet is because it’s just so damned cold out, so this is also when we check all the windows and doors for draughts and proof them where necessary.

But just because there are fewer customers doesn’t mean there are none at all, so we still have to make sure that the shop is accessible. The room where all our Westerns are located lies beyond the area that we re-floored and, of course, two customers specifically came looking for Westerns as we were in the middle of that!

Finally, just because there are fewer bookstore customers doesn’t mean there are fewer café clients looking for lunch, so the menu gets tweaked to suit the weather with hearty soups and warming chillies and we create more evening events with themed dinners.

How many other bookstore owners out there are following a similar regime this time of year?

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Remodeling #10

 

Jack’s weekly guest post –

Since we moved in here ten years ago we (and that means mostly I) have carried out some serious building projects. Some were simply needed because of the age of the building (built in 1903), some we chose to do and others were needed to meet certain legal requirements.

The first was redecorating most of the upstairs to make that area pleasant as living quarters, then I walled in the open car port to turn it into a garage complete with a window and an ‘up and over’ main door. Next was building a disabled ramp at the side of the porch and then re-shingling the roof. The upstairs bathroom got a complete make-over and shortly after we got a grant to completely renovate the front porch. We had earlier built a fire escape stair from upstairs which doubled as access to the yard for our dogs Zora and Bert, which turned out to be handy when we opened The Second Story Café.

Before we opened the café I had turned our dismal and cobwebby basement into our new living quarters (that’s chronicled in an earlier blog post) but I also had to install additional sinks and an extraction system in the upstairs kitchen. We had never had a separate heat and air system upstairs, so the advent of the café meant fitting a heat pump in the attic, running ducts to all the rooms and cutting holes in all the ceilings (very messy!).

Most of these jobs were interesting and challenging and I felt a definite sense of pride in my contribution to them although confirmed in my nervousness about plumbing and electrical work.

However, the latest jobs I had been putting to the end of the queue for years. The downstairs kitchen and bathroom both had old worn and curling vinyl flooring and I had been dreading fixing them. The first to be done was the bathroom and I used a floating planks system that proved much easier than I expected, so then it was time for the kitchen. We had divided this room with bookshelves as well as installing more along the walls on one side, so all the books had to be boxed and stored wherever we could find a corner followed by removing all the shelving into the garage. My good friend David Hamrick had arrived on Friday to help me and Wendy began boxing books on Saturday. By Sunday lunchtime we had all the books and shelves out and had started laying the new floor – more floating planks. By Monday afternoon we had the floor finished and the shelves back in place and this morning the last of the books were back.

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The old floor

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– and the new one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m absolutely sure of one thing though – there’s another job just waiting around the corner!

 

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