Tag Archives: community resilience

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….


Leave a comment

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

The Really Fun Parts of Bookslinging

Running a used books store hovers around #12 on the list of second careers retirees dream about, which begs the question: what is it in this “doomed” (according to the media; we say “Hmmph”) profession that appeals so? Jack and I sat down to make a list of the top 5 perks:

1) The customers. You’ll never meet sweeter, kookier, nicer people than those who frequent bookshops. I am tempted to add, particularly in a small town, but maybe it’s universal. Our customers tell us stories, bring us brownies, ask us to look at their rashes, suggest colors to paint our walls… They’re like a big extended family of near-and-far cousins.

2) Sorting the trade-ins. This is kind of bittersweet; we see SOOOOO many Pattersons, Cornwalls, Grishams. A grey twilight is threatening to eclipse our paranormal romance section. And yet, amidst the flood of oh-so-popular stuff, boxes come in with unique offerings; you lift the Reader’s Digest How To Manuals and find a slew of unknown titles–and your heartbeat accelerates.

I’d never heard of Prayers and Lies, but  liked this debut novel about dysfunctional families. It was just lying there in a stack of Nicholas Sparks, humming a little tune to itself, waiting patiently to be discovered. That happens often enough to keep us excited.

3) Quips. Customers say the darndest things! They toss off comments that completely startle you with their wisdom. The other day as I bemoaned the economy an elderly customer shrugged. “I ain’t eatin’ cat food and the sun is shinin’,” he said. “Good’nuff fer today.”

4) Peacefulness. We don’t know why. Our personal lives are NOT peaceful at this time (though they are fun). And this peace thing is true of other bookshops we have visited. Books lining walls make a noise buffer? We don’t know, but bookshops are magically calm, and we can tell you that it’s not our influence as owners making it so. It just is.

5) The juxtaposition of predictability and unpredictability. This morning Jack said, “It’s Friday. Mr. L will be on the porch at 9:30, waiting for his Steinbecks.” Mr. L discovered Steinbeck late in life (his seventies) and has since been buying one per week. I asked Jack if finances held Mr. L back from getting a slew at once, and Jack doubled over with laughter. “I actually offered a deal on all we had, and Mr. L said, ‘Nah. What if I die ‘afore next weekend? Nobody else in my house’d read ’em.'”

Nancy comes Thursdays and gets Dragonlance books. Wendy (a customer, not me) buys True Crime every two weeks, on payday. Pitted against this, on any given day someone could waltz in and demand “everything you’ve got on Hawaii,” or take out his fiddle and play a tune–as a young lad did last week for Jack, without preamble. When he’d finished (to a round of applause from other shoppers) he asked, “You wanna stock my CD?” (Jack did.)

Being a bookslinger won’t make you rich, but it will make you happy.

(Don’t forget to scroll back to Aug. 14th and enter Caption Contest V. It’s fun, and you could win a free book!)


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

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.


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