Tag Archives: economics

Well, Cheers, VA

Jack reverts to form and comes in a day late –

Wendy and I have a guilty secret – two actually!

We are suckers for bookstores (well, duh!) but also thrift stores. The thing about thrift stores (charity shops in Scotland) is that you never know what will be in there and there’s always the hope that the next one will be better than the last.

Now that we’ve moved to Wytheville we’re in easy travel of quite a few second-hand shops, some turning out to be real Aladdin’s caves of all kind of delights – and horrors.

Being new to the area we don’t know until we visit them whether they’re any good or not, or even whether they really are selling second hand stuff or just another arty pseudo antique place selling tat at inflated prices.

But then our new friend  (who owns Oracle Books in Wytheville) took me to one here in town a couple of weeks ago. It’s an outlet of Virginia State where they sell off redundant stuff from State departments. My goodness! Everything from storage cabinets and shelf units to office tables and school desks and beyond.

Yesterday I took Wendy because she wanted a table for her writing hideaway (AKA the jail). As we wandered independently around she called to me. “Have a look” she said, and there was a display cabinet full of plastic bags, each one stuffed with corkscrews. Probably twenty or so in each bag and there were at least a hundred bags!

corkscrews

So of course the question we asked each other was – which department did they come from? Did the ABC folk order a gazillion of them and then realize too late they don’t sell wine? Or is there a department that’s so under pressure they go through a bottle a day to just function? If so, which one? Maybe Motor Vehicles? State police? Department of Health? (That’s Wendy’s vote.)

No matter which part of your tax dollars at work resulted in a table chock full of corkscrews at $2 per gallon baggie, we want to say what should of course be said: THANK YOU. We bought two bags.

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

The Grand Tours – –

Jack gets to do a weekend blog post to get Wendy off the hook

I’ve often said to folk over here that I have never gotten used to long road trips, but that’s not entirely true. Every year I conduct a small group of Americans around Scotland for almost two weeks. We stay in various hotels along the way and drive for anything up to six hours each day.

So you’d think that something similar here wouldn’t be all that different!

Just this last two weeks Wendy and I did just that– mixture of author promotions and business meetings Wendy had to do, and she dragged me along for fun. From here in Big Stone Gap all the way up to DC and down to Knoxville with lots of ups and downs along I-81 just to make life interesting. Part of that involved choosing our next house!

https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/550-Tazewell-St-Wytheville-VA-24382/108105878_zpid/

Earlier this year Wendy and I took our Scottish (and English) friends Barbara and Oliver on a three week road trip up to South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and all points in between and had a great time. But it did involve some serious planning!

I think what makes the difference is that you never feel very far from anywhere in Scotland – it’s a small country. Whereas the US is really enormous, so there’s more of a sense that you are setting off on a real journey here. You think about meal breaks and plan much more about where to stay along the way.

Maybe also another difference is that in Scotland I’m never very far from one friend or another. On the recent road trip here we were lucky to be able to stay with a new friend in DC. Amelia Townsend (originally from Big Stone) runs the Shoestring Theater Company and had asked me to provide some music for her upcoming new play. We took the pieces on a CD and zip-drive with us and she was gracious in providing us with accommodation for a couple of nights.

But the journey finished in a very American way – Thanksgiving with Wendy’s family in Knoxville.

Family meals in Appalachia usually tend to be somewhat Northern European – a bit like filling up at the gas station. But there are exceptions and Thanksgiving is one. So this is one of those occasions when I’m reminded of meals I’ve shared in Southern Europe – Italy, Spain or France, with a social gathering around a big table that’s as much about sharing stories as sharing food. I doubt I will ever forget Wendy’s mom’s story of how, as a young nurse (and lifelong abstainer) she got drunk on rum filled chocolates and had to be persuaded to lie down for a while!

If you knew her mother, you’d know how funny this story is. Look up “lady” and it’s her picture you see with the definition.

Still and all, with us moving in the New Year – one of the first stops on this madcap tour was to procure our new place in Wytheville—there is nothing quite like coming home to one’s own little bed again. Wendy and I are looking forward to the next adventure, while enjoying the last of the summer wine from this one. The bookstore has been grand to us, and we know it will be great for the next team.

Onward—adventure awaits!

4 Comments

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Unsung Bookstore Heroes!

Jack makes it over the bar with the Wednesday guest post – –

This place is BIG! The odd thing is that it’s gotten bigger over the last fourteen years, as we’ve made less livable spaces more so –

It takes a bit of looking after and keeping clean, and we’ve tried various strategies to deal with that over the years. To begin with we tried to keep on top of things ourselves but later we realized that wasn’t too practicable. So we had a couple of good friends who stepped up to help. The first was Heather, who can be seen in this video jokingly using our cat Owen Meanie as a duster. Heather was an awesome cleaner, thorough, efficient, and with a wicked sense of humor.

But she moved to Colorado so then we had Anne, who not only cleaned but brought posters and knick knacks and little colored baskets to make the shop more cheerful. Eventually health issues meant she had to retire (she’s also in the video as ‘Becky’ in the needlework group). Both of them were painstaking and highly skilled and we missed them—even more as we tried others with mixed results and also went back to trying to handle things ourselves. It was clear that we needed to find someone to take the place on –

Enter Judy!

She already cleaned for our vet friend, the sainted Beth and we had heard some stories that seemed pretty far-fetched. For instance, we were told she only would agree to clean for folk she approved of, and also she did all sorts of stuff that wouldn’t normally be considered ‘cleaning’. Seemed a bit odd, but we sent out a feeler to see if she was interested.

We’re not sure how she assessed our suitability but apparently we passed the test!

Judy is absolutely amazing – she has taken us on as her extended family. She really DOES do far more than we’d expected. Just recently I asked her to mop the front porch deck – she turned up with a power washer and did the deck, the railings and the furniture! Then there was the time she dug up an overgrown bush in the back yard and then brought here truck into the yard and hauled the roots out with a chain. She loves the cats as Heather and Anne did before her, and she once used her mop to physically repel a man trying to dump kittens in the bookstore.

Do not mess with Judy. She is the stuff of which mountain families are made. Also, don’t leave your coffee cup on untreated wood without a coaster. She’ll take you out.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Hands, Knees and Boomps – a- Daisy

This time Jack meets the deadline – –

I suffer from Nail Patella Syndrome (NPS) but didn’t even know what it was until I was into my fifties. It’s hereditary and can affect people very differently. For me it’s quite mild – my elbows won’t straighten and my knee caps swivel to the side; also my thumb nails and toe nails twist and split. The worst, when I was a child and teenager, was my teeth. NPS means your teeth are soft, with twisted roots and very subject to cavities. So you can probably imagine what dentist visits were like for me in the 1950s and 60s! I still have nightmares about that now – – – but no teeth I’m happy to say!

In other words, for me it is mainly a skeletal thing – bones, joints and suchlike.

IMG_3602

Knees, elbows and Owen!

But I’m lucky compared to other members of my extended family. NPS can, in its more severe forms, affect your kidneys and liver which I’m glad to say it never has for me.

One of the first people in the US to be officially approved to use cannabis as a medical treatment was a man suffering from a severe case of NPS. So we’re trailblazers too!

I’ve always wondered, though, if various health episodes during my life had any connection to NPS? There haven’t been all that many, but you can’t help wondering. My tonsils were removed when I was three years old, an ingrowing toenail was cut out when I was six. Much, much later my small intestine (hah!) tied itself in a double knot, I almost died and it took a year to recover.

About eighteen years ago a doctor from Liverpool in England was doing her post-doctoral research on the condition and I was honored to receive a copy of her final thesis – there I could immediately see pictures of my knee and toenails and descriptions of my family members (all anonymous of course).

But let’s get to the point of all this –

If you suspect that you or someone you know may suffer from this condition here are a couple of useful links – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nail%E2%80%93patella_syndrome

http://www.npsw.org/

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Why do we do it?!

Jack’s on time again – Musht be shome mishtake – – –

Ah! – the aftermath of our annual Celtic festival! The post-mortems and memories; what went right and what went wrong.

Actually not much went wrong, but I’m always a nervous wreck in the run-up thinking what might. This year our hard working chairperson Darinda moved home out of the area so the rest of us had to regroup and strategize. We had already had to accept that we couldn’t avoid a calendar clash with another big, but non Celtic, music festival just a couple of hours away. The weather forecast began to look more and more ominous right up to the night before.

In the end the forecast of all day thunderstorms didn’t materialize, the bike race was well supported, the parade wasn’t rained on, the vendors were happy, the sheepdogs starred, the music venues worked well and everyone had the opportunity to sample haggis, Cornish pasties, cock-a-leekie soup and apple crumble.

We probably did lose some attendance to the other festival, but not as much as I feared. We probably also lost folk due to the terrible weather forecast. But we still provided custom to the local B&B and the local hotels from folks who came from a distance and that’s partly what it’s all about.

Another perennial worry is whether we’d raise enough financial support to run the festival to our projected budget. Some regular supporting businesses and organizations had to cut back a bit this time but we got there in the end.

For me, the icing on the cake are the late night sessions back in the bookstore on Friday and Saturday. This year they were exceptional, in no small part because our good friends Tim and Eileen were over from North Carolina. Friday night saw great instrumental music while on Saturday I was transported back to the wonderful experience of being in the company of exceptional singers and harmonizers that I remember from years gone by.

I’ve helped organize many festivals and folksong clubs over the years and there’s always a constant tension between the satisfaction and pleasure when things work out and the worry that things will fall apart.

This time it mostly worked –

pipes

bikes

caber

sheepdogsigean

6 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Times they are a Changin’

It’s Thursday so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday post –

Well – it’s finally really real.

The bookstore is up and listed for sale and the for-sale sign is prominent out front.

It’s kind of strange to have reached this point after much to-ing and fro-ing, debating and soul-searching. Many people have asked us where we are going and are we taking the bookstore somewhere else? Right now we have no idea where we’ll end up but we both feel that it’s time for another chapter in our shared story and an as yet undefined further adventure. We would much prefer to sell to someone who will continue to run it as the ‘the little bookstore that could’, but if it has to go back to a big old house then so be it.

bennett

Part of the decision was about getting back to a simpler and less complicated life in a more manageable sized house. Of course it’s also just that sometimes a voice in your head says “it’s time’.

In the twenty years Wendy and I have been married we have lived in Fife, Scotland, Padiham, England, White Springs, Florida and here in Big Stone Gap. The longest we’ve been anywhere is here in Virginia.

I should admit right away that I absolutely hate moving house. The physical effort, the decisions about what to keep, the legalities around house sale and purchase and all the change of address stuff involved.

However, despite all that, we remain the same people and we don’t abandon friends. Social media can be a real pain but it is an excellent way to stay in touch with folk regardless of where we might physically be.

Some people have asked what will happen to my radio show and I’ve assured them that, through the wonders of the internet there’s no reason it shouldn’t keep on going as long as WETS wants it.

My tours of Scotland will also continue for two more years, although the 2019 one is fully subscribed at the moment.

A final thought – our time running the bookstore has been delightful and we’ve made many good and loyal friends along the way. Whoever takes it over will be part of a supportive community and a town that is now waking up to its true potential. The town council is bringing forward lots of good ideas to take advantage of the wonderful architecture, history and surrounding beautiful mountain countryside. Big Stone Gap is known for its local authors and famous books and the local outdoor drama based on ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine’ has gotten a new lease of life. All of this will continue to pull people in and the bookstore has great potential to take advantage of that and go on to build on its reputation as one of the ‘places not to miss’ for the increasing number of visitors.

 

9 Comments

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

Onwards and Upwards – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to Thursday again –

It’s certainly no secret anymore that we are actively looking to pass along Tales of the Lonesome Pine to as yet unidentified new owners. The building/business should be listed very shortly.

bookstore

One of the interesting things has been producing a briefing sheet showing the financial information over the twelve years since we opened, as well as a narrative describing the things that worked/didn’t work to promote the business.

The financial report was relatively easy as we have kept careful records, could consult bank statements and sales tax returns as well as saved card sales. Of course running a bookstore in a small rural town in an economically challenged area isn’t easy. But what was obvious when I ran the figures was two things. Opening the Second Story Café had a significant impact and so did the publication of ‘The Little Bookstore’. There was a big trade-off between the bookstore and the café, and the book continues to bring folk from all over the country and even from around the world.

We wanted to pass along to any potential new owners all the insights we had gained and experiences that had ‘educated’ us. We also wanted to try to share our enthusiasm for the place – not just the business but the town and the community as well.

‘The Little Bookstore’ is almost a working manual in itself, but it’s now six years old and life moves on. Things that worked then don’t necessarily work now and lots of different opportunities have presented themselves.

Our fondest hope is that ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ will continue to operate and flourish as a bookstore and hub of this community, and doesn’t end up being sold as simply the house we stumbled on twelve years ago – but that’s in the hands of fate!

Where we, personally, end up next is anyone’s guess right now but there comes a time when you just know it’s time to move on. The world’s a much smaller place now so you never lose touch with friends and we might not be too far away anyway.

10 Comments

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