Tag Archives: bookstores

Strangers in the day

 Jack’s Wednesday (just) guest post –

For some reason that I can’t fathom we’re getting a lot of out of town (and out of State) visitors to the bookstore and the cafe just now. It’s not the season for school reunions or vacations, and although some folk have deliberately detoured this way because of reading ‘The Little Bookstore’ many of them haven’t.

It seems to be a completely random thing – just passing through or maybe here for a funeral or family visit.

Quite apart from the welcome business, it adds to the busyness! I love it when strangers come in when we have local loyal friends of the place just hanging out and everyone ends up swapping stories.

Two examples from today –

1) A couple drove for five hours from Elkins in WV yesterday because they had read the book. They visited yesterday afternoon then came back this morning as soon as we opened and stayed on for lunch. As they were leaving they said they’d be back soon. Of course they had dinner in town last night then stayed overnight in a local hotel and had breakfast before heading back here and encountering the hanging out crowd.

2) A gentleman drove up from Johnson City simply because he heard a repeat broadcast on the local NPR station of an interview with Wendy about the store. As soon as he heard my voice he said “you’re the guy on WETSfm that has the Celtic show”. I’ve been presenting Celtic Clanjamphry every week for almost ten years as an unpaid volunteer and, in return they now count that as sponsorship by Tales of the Lonesome Pine, so we get a mention on air as well.

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Nobody can spell Clanjamphry!

Just two examples of how new customers arrive at the door. Of course they are, for different reasons, already pretty well primed to be ‘on side’. The challenge for anyone who runs this kind of shop is to try to read the personality of the completely ‘cold callers’ and respond appropriately. As I said at the beginning we had a good few of them as well. One couple were quiet and focused and I simply responded to their occasional request while another guy started like that, then encountered a kitten and became much more engaged. On the one hand you have to like people to do this job, but on the other hand you have to be able to quickly read people too.

It’s still great fun!

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Filed under bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Music Hath Charms – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

We just had a weekend away and enjoyed a great time with musical friends in Williamsburg VA. We went to join the farewell party for Mick and Neva Mikula who are headed permanently to Florida. Mick is an ex-member of a great Celtic rock band called Coyote Run who split up a couple of years ago and the company was composed of other ex-members and associates of the band.

At the last minute I discovered that there was to be a wedding on Sunday and I was invited to contribute to the musical accompaniment. To my astonishment I encountered a fine fiddle player who launched into Niel Gow’s ‘Farewell to Whisky’, which confirmed for me that behind the kilts and leather gear favored by ‘Coyote Run’ lay an unusually deep (for that particular musical scene) appreciation and understanding of real traditional Celtic music.

We first encountered the Coyotes a number of years ago at the Sycamore Shoals festival in Elizabethton TN, where Wendy and I had started to MC the main stage. We found that we shared a mutual quirky sense of humor and over the succeeding years our paths continued to cross. In their final year we were able to book them as headliners at Big Stone Celtic. I was always impressed by their combination of musicianship, stagecraft, visual effects and sheer exuberance. By comparison with the other regular and much shallower bands on the circuit they clearly had listened to the ‘right stuff’ and that was reflected in their repertoire.

 

Over the weekend, in conversation with the fiddle player (Paul Anderson) and Mick and the others I was astonished to find how much overlap there was in the singers and musicians we all admired.

However, there was another amusing occurrence before we headed home. Wendy went on a shopping spree with the others as I recuperated from a very late night and found a bookstore – Mermaid Books. She happened to be wearing one of our bookstore tee-shirts and the owner asked her if she’d ever visited Tales of the Lonesome Pine. She said that she had. He said that there was a great book about it that he really enjoyed, to which Wendy said “I’m the author”. Cue much hilarity and exchanging of bookstore stories!

A final big thank you to our hosts, who I suspect didn’t originally intend to have so many house-guests just as they were about to box up their possessions ahead of their departure. They treated us and the other ‘lodgers’ like royalty and we were fed delectable Indian and Middle-Eastern delicacies, not to mention haggis for breakfast.

it’s a hard life over here – – –

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

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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Filed under bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

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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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized