Tag Archives: building community

Observations on the Boston Globe’s article about Bookstore Ownership

Jack’s weekly guest blog

“Oh, some poo’er the giftie gi’e us, tae see oorsels as ithers see us” (Robert Burns)

(Oh that some power the gift would give us, to see ourselves as others see us.)

Over the last few months it’s been interesting to read the number of articles about the resurgence of independent bookstores around the country and see how Wendy’s book and our experiences have fit in. And to sit back and watch, with small “we told you so smirks” playing on our faces, how many people who thought just three years ago that bookstores were “dinosaurs” are now eating crow served up by brontosaurus waiters and waitresses.

Yes, we might be gloating slightly on that point….

On Sunday past the Boston Globe ran an article on wealthy retirees looking to ‘fulfill their dream’ of running a bookstore someday by buying ready-made shops that had gone ‘belly up’. (I’m sure many of them worked with their communities to support the previous owners, like folks elsewhere.)

It wasn’t clear from the article whether these were new-book stores or used-book stores and that has a certain bearing on their success potential, as does whether they are in buildings with mortgages or rents. As Wendy said in her talk for Books TV, “my advice to people wanting to open a bookshop starts with: don’t pay rent for a separate building. And you need to like people as much as you like books.”

That’s another key element, liking people, because you need to invite them in for community events –not just author signings, but actual hub activity. Invite all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons tied to books. Give them needlework nights, game nights, astronomy nights, illustrator nights, nights of fun and flaming passion – well, fun, anyway.

While we were in Nashville at Southern Festival of the Book we chatted with Ethan Watters, author of Urban Tribes. He  is from San Francisco and was telling us about someone who had bought an existing bookstore out there planning to do just that–make it into a ‘community hub’ and thus keep it alive and thriving. This is an approach dear to our heart and also, we believe, one the great ‘unique selling points’ (MBA-speak; excuse me) of bookstores. It’s why we matter. It’s why we’re thriving.

The Globe article might focus a bit more on wealthy people in upmarket areas than on the small town shops Wendy and I saw in our 2011 Booking Down the Road Trip, or have heard from in the community of independent bookstore owners banding together since then, but our observations remain the same: those prepared to work hard and find fun in that will love running a bookstore. And they will understand one our favorite sayings: there are those who are rich, and then there are those who have a lot of money.

I do wonder, with a sympathetic grin, if those buying bookstores know what they’re letting themselves in for. We didn’t, when we started. Which leads me to another Scots saying: “Weel ye ken noo!”


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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, shopsitting, writing

Bouncing off the Bars

People can get priggish or preachy about the whole “shop local” thing, but it really does have a positive impact. I bought a hank of homespun wool from a friend for $25; she spent $15 at the local craft shop and $10 buying books from me. I had supper at the buffet across the street; the craft shop owner bought cupcakes from the local bakery for her son’s birthday. “Follow the money” as ’round and ’round and ’round it goes, keeping us in business for ourselves–and each other.

What if I’d gone to Walmart instead and bought $25 worth of Red Heart–which would have been a whole 28 oz. more of crocheting material?

More yarn, less community. Thank you, but I’ll make my friend a scarf instead of an afghan for Christmas.

Jack and I shop local, but we once made a pact that we would not buy anything at Walmart unless we couldn’t find it after a week of trying elsewhere, and gave up after about 10 days. We needed a picture frame, and nobody sells them anymore, except specialty ones in Hallmark (a locally owned franchise).

So we’re not sticklers. Jack once read me excerpts from a book called The McDonaldization of Society, in which the author divided people into iron cagers, rubber cagers, and free-rangers. Iron cagers shopped for the cheapest or most convenient thing, without thinking of its impact or consequences except to them (money and time) in the short term. Rubber cagers tried to buy things from local providers before chain stores (local franchises are not chain stores in my mind, btw) and generally made purchases based on their carbon footprint and what they considered fair treatment of those who produced the item.

The sad point of the book was that free rangers–those who swear they will DO NO HARM, grow their own food, spin their own cloth, etc–cannot be completely free if they live in a developed nation. It’s impossible. (And if they live in a developing one, that’s just called “daily living.”)

Still, as that author pointed out, rubber caging is better than nothing, and every little bit helps–or at least slows the crash and tumble that economic or environmental disaster historically bring. So Jack and I aspire to bounce off the bars of uninformed choices every chance we get. Boing! It’s kinda fun, actually, to plot one’s way out of the path of least resistance, and surprisingly inexpensive. Bet you know a local crafter who doesn’t even have a shop; a little stuffed-to-the-gills “junk” store somewhere on your town’s side streets; even a service store that would do a gift certificate if you asked them.

Boing… this is kinda fun… boing….

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, VA

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.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized