Tag Archives: economics

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.

 

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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.

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All is Forgiven – –

Jack’s guest post is early this week – that’s something new –

One of the things I remember from my MBA studies was how companies convert casual customers into loyal ones. There were a range of strategies but the most effective one was how they deal with problems. If a business accepted there was a problem and went out of their way to deal with it that customer would not only stick with them but pull in all their friends and acquaintances.

Last Friday I flew back from Scotland and my route was Edinburgh to Chicago and then Chicago to Knoxville. The final flight was due out of Chicago at 6.50pm and to arrive in TYS around 8.30pm.

The first problem was that the scheduled flight attendant’s incoming flight was from Canada and was not only late but coming into a different terminal, so she added a 30 minute delay (not her fault). We pushed out from the gate and sat in the ‘alley’ for another 30 minutes in a very hot plane until the pilot announced that we were going back to the gate because the A/C had broken (not his fault). Another 30 minutes later it was fixed, we got back on board and pushed out again.

This time we again sat for 30 minutes in the alley before we eventually trundled to the area where all the other planes were taking their turn to take off. We sat for another hour watching plane after plane pass us and take off. Finally we started to move only to perambulate around the airport and back to where we’d started. The Pilot came on and said there was a warning light flashing so we were going back to the gate again (not his fault).

We got to the gate and were again sent in to the terminal. After some time we were told that it wasn’t fixable but they were bringing a replacement plane out of the hangar for us. We finally took off four hours late and arrived at last in Knoxville at 12.45am. Normally this would have driven me crazy, but the pilot and flight attendant were absolutely on the ball. They didn’t keep us on an overheated plane, provided us with water, organized free snacks, kept us informed all the way as to what was happening and apologized for things they had no control over. Next morning I got an email from the airline apologizing again and giving me 2500 airmiles in compensation.

I was enormously impressed with the way that the employees of this enormous company who were actually in direct contact with their customers went out of their way to make us comfortable and cared for.

United Airlines has obviously turned a corner from last year when they dragged that man off the plane and have some amazing employees.

To the crew of UA 4013 – very well done and I will continue to fly United.

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Avanti o Popolo, Alla Riscossa.

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to tradition and appears on Thursday –

OK – I’m going to dive in!

As an ex-teacher I’ve obviously been following the battle waged by my WV colleagues and it reminded me very much of the situation in Scotland at the height of Maggie Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister.

The Scottish teachers were the only group to actually win a strike against her and it was partly through the same solidarity that the brave and solidly united teachers of WV have shown.

But something else I’ve begun to see – that’s the young folk all over this country who are emerging and aren’t intimidated. Right now it’s about gun control but that’s sure to lead to other things. I wonder if there’s just the possibility that we might see a revival of the movements of the 60s and 70s that would bring about some change?

It’s so tiring and frustrating to be continuing all the time to fight back and it mostly means going out there either on the street or into hostile territory. Many people have paid a terrible price for doing that and many more likely will!

But here’s the really scary thing. In the US and the UK there’s effectively a two party system and that makes it so easy for the vested interests and the big corporations to simply pay them both off. That seems to be exactly what’s happening. Of course the argument is always to get elected on a party ticket and then change things from within. All I can say is that there are hardly any examples of full-time professional politicians that I see who haven’t been bought – either with brown envelopes or ermine cloaks – or both.

Things appear to work better in those European countries that use voting systems that promote multi-party coalitions but I don’t see any likelihood of the folk benefiting from the existing system ever agreeing to that.

So, for now, there doesn’t seem to be much alternative than to be inspired by the WV teachers and the young folk around the country! Of course you can also visit your local bookstore and find lots of great books about community activism – such as Randy Shaw’s excellent ‘The Activist’s Handbook’!

activism

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We don’t Need no Thought Control

Jack manages to get his Wednesday guest post up here on a Wednesday –

There’s a meme going around Facebook just now about the trade-off between corporate life and a happy life that starts with a quote from the Dalai Lama about suits and ties and it got me thinking –

I started my working life as, first an apprentice house and sign painter and decorative painter, and then wound up running my own business doing that. So fairly laid back and relaxed although always at the demands of clients and customers. Eventually I graduated to teaching these skills in the local community college.

That was when my suit and tie days began and so it continued until I retired in 2002. Even after that as a training and education consultant I continued for a number of years to work ‘business hours’ and still in a suit and tie.

It’s very tempting, of course, to buy into the notion of a regular day job existence ‘stealing’ your independence and freedom but I don’t really agree with that I’m afraid. All the time I was attending to customers’ needs and running a college department I had an escape hatch into the world of traditional folk music. So there was a parallel world that I could inhabit whenever I wanted to.

What this meant was that when I finally did retire I had a number of different pensions that kicked in as well as a substantial ‘lump sum’, and I still had the parallel world. That really did give me independence and freedom and I think that’s a perfectly good trade-off. Mind you, I was brought up in the cradle of ‘the protestant work ethic’ so maybe I’m programed in that direction.

It’s possible, I’m sure, to live a satisfying life without the need for a 9 to 5 job that involves a suit and tie and it may be that the US is a country where that is more practicable. I have no doubt there are particular corporate world jobs that provide little satisfaction and are even grindingly boring. So maybe I was just lucky. I certainly always used to describe myself to my favorite college boss as a ‘lucky painter’, although she eventually got tired of me saying that!

All I can say in conclusion is that I have no problem whatsoever with my particular trade-off. But I rarely wear a suit and tie these days – –

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The Train that I Ride – –

Jack is jumping in here so Wendy can write something else –

I had the great pleasure of visiting with Wendy up in Fayetteville WV a few days ago and found it to be a charming place, about the same size as Big Stone Gap. The biggest difference was the group of writers and artists I met who are re-inventing the place and promoting it as a welcoming haven for such folk (but that’s for another blog post).

On Thursday we drove out into the surrounding area and explored out of the way places. We stumbled on the most amazing thing. We had heard there was an old abandoned coal-town that you could wander round called Thurmond. My goodness!

We traveled along a narrow winding road and came to what might have been the place, but there wasn’t much to see. So we carried on just out of curiosity to see where we’d end up. A few miles further on we came to a scary narrow bridge and essayed across gingerly and found ourselves at an abandoned railroad station with a sign saying Thurmond. The depot had been restored as a visitor center by the National Park Service and there was a street of empty impressive looking buildings. The buildings had big posters mounted inside explaining their history and that of the town.

thurmond 3

As we wandered round we stumbled across a very modern Amtrack signboard and discovered to our amazement that the station was on the main line from New York to Chicago and a train stopped once a day in each direction.

thurmond 4

It turned out that the nearby New River Gorge area is a big tourist destination in Summer, so we suppose that people come there by train then, although how they get any further can only be on foot as I doubt there’s any bus or taxi service.

 

That said, it is a destination worth getting to, especially for outdoorsy types into hiking, biking, and kayaking. Wendy and I can watch people like that for hours.

While we were there, a train came through, hauling empty coal cars. The L&M may not stop there anymore, but at least in the summer, people do.

 

 

 

thurmond 5

thurmond 1

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Up, Up and Away – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post sets a new record for lateness –

So, we’re beginning to get fairly close to election time here in Virginia – it’s November 7th just in case anyone has forgotten!

To be a wee bit more specific – I am one of three candidates for the position of County Supervisor in district 3 of Wise County.

While up in the dizzy heights of the State level campaigns party allegiance may be an important consideration, I don’t believe that’s greatly significant at county level. In fact I’m certain that all three of us standing here have a good understanding of the issues facing this part of the Commonwealth and would be conscientious in addressing them.

At this point, for my many Scottish friends who read this blog, I should do a quick translation. County Supervisor would be the equivalent of a regional councillor in Scotland and a district would be the same as a ward.

Now, why should my neighbors vote for me? Well, probably there are three very big and interlinked issues facing Wise County right now. The first is a declining working population, partly because of increasing unemployment in the coal industry and partly because young people ‘get the h**ll out of Dodge’ at the first opportunity. The second is an economy that for too long has been over-dependent on the aforementioned coal industry and needs to urgently diversify. The third is a very significant problem with drugs – particularly prescribed opioid pain medications.

Regular readers will know that Wendy and I lost a friend recently, who took his own life, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the intersection of these three issues had a bearing on what he did.

So let’s look up instead of down and try to chart a way forward. We should no longer be sitting back and waiting for someone else, somewhere else to solve our problems. We need to give ourselves a good shake and then – –

Wendy attended a rural health conference recently where one of the presenters spoke about ‘Bright Sparks’ around the country; places that were doing much better than all the evidence suggested they should. Why was that? It seemed to bear out what we had observed a few years ago as we did our trip through the backroads of nine rural states around here. Some towns were obviously doing well while others were nothing more than ghost-towns. The secret seemed to be one of two things – either a respected locally born individual or community group that just ‘did it’ instead of waiting for others to do it for them!

I might be standing for office, but I’m very clear that office holders, at town, county or state level can’t do this. Not at all! What they can do, though, is smooth the way for the individuals and groups that can just ‘do it’. Over the last 12 years Wendy and I, along with like-minded friends, have fought our way through interminable minefields of policy documents, vested interests and many folk who just want things to roll along as they are. First was the bookstore, then the farmers’ market and then the Celtic festival. It’s easy to just roll over and give in – but each time we found that it was possible with like-minded locals to create a buzz and get things done.

That’s what I want to do – help get things done!

A final note – Virginia is actually a Commonwealth. That translates in various ways – common wealth; common wellbeing; common good (in Scotland – commonweal). That suggests to me that the rural areas of the State should share equally in the benefits that are enjoyed by the urban north. Even better – let’s help the rural south west become a bright spark!

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