Tag Archives: economics

Timing is everything

Jack’s (fairly) regular Wednesday guest post –

On Sunday we had the third Clanjamphry Live concert at the beautiful Lincoln Theater in Marion Virginia. This is a twice a year link-up with my Celtic music radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ and we were delighted that our friends Alan Reid and Rob van Sante were touring over here and available just when we needed them.

The trouble was that we had originally intended to hold the concert on Saturday night but at the last minute the theater had a request from their long established ‘showcase’ – Song of the Mountains – and couldn’t realistically turn them down. In the end we opted to move to Sunday afternoon, but had absolutely no idea if that would work. Was there an overlap of potential audience that would choose one or the other but not both? Would anyone come out to a concert on a Sunday afternoon?

alan_rob

As usual we peeked out from the wings and were somewhat nervous when, with five minutes to go, saw a pretty sparse crowd. However we then had to get organized as Wendy and I were starting things off. To our surprise and great relief when we stepped out onto the stage we saw that we had just as big an audience as we’d had for the previous concerts in the series.

Even better than that it seems that we may now have a loyal audience that trusts us to give them an experience they value.

But, despite everything, I suspect that we should try to avoid Sunday afternoons in future!

Alan and Rob got a standing ovation and an encore, which didn’t surprise me and was richly deserved. What the audience didn’t know was that they had just completed six gigs in six days with lengthy drives between and were pretty exhausted. Luckily we had booked a cabin at nearby Hungry Mother State Park for Saturday and Sunday night, so they could get some R&R before and after our concert. That meant we could also share our gigs from hell stories too!

Celtic Clanjamphry airs on WETS.fm on Sundays at 9pm, WETS HD2 on Mondays at 8pm and Saturdays at 10am. It also goes out in the Marion area on WEHC.fm on Sundays at 5pm. http://www.wets.org

Alan Reid and Rob van Sante can be found herehttp://www.reidvansante.com/

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized

A Turkey Poke or a Pig in a Poke?

Wendy apologizes for the lack of Monday book this week (she’s in DC lobbying on behalf of rural health provision), but at least I got the Wednesday guest post out on time!

Our friend Amy teaches Appalachian Studies up the road at the local campus of UVA, but she has to attend a conference elsewhere today and on Friday. So I will be guest lecturing two different groups of students on the links between the Scots language and the Appalachian dialect.

I usually start with a brief geography lesson as it’s painfully true that the majority of folk over here, even many with a strong pride in their Scottish ancestry, really don’t know where Scotland is. Not only that but there’s a lot of confusion between The UK, Great Britain, England and Scotland (most Americans just say England regardless). Despite that, Scotland has a surprisingly strong ‘brand image’ around the world and most folk will readily come up with lots of examples of things they think of as peculiarly Scottish.

Then when it comes to the movement of the settlers to this area, most people don’t really know what is meant by the ‘Scotch-Irish’. So I cover a bit of history, explaining how lowland Scots were ‘encouraged’ to move to the north of Ireland, how their children (born in Ireland) then moved on to Pennsylvania and eventually to this neck of the woods. They are the ‘Scotch-Irish’ – also known as Ulster-Scots.

They brought with them their culture, including songs, ballads, fiddle tunes, food recipes, a strong suspicion of government power, as well as their language.

Of course I have to explain that Scots isn’t just a dialect of English, but a language in its own right but with obvious similarities; rather like the relationship between, say, Spanish and Portuguese, or Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

The legacy still to be heard in Appalachia involves vocabulary, sentence structure and pronunciation. However in Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia speaking anything other than standard English was historically frowned on and it’s only relatively recently that appreciation of these languages has been encouraged.

While family names and place names in Appalachia are a strong clue to where the settlers came from, there are many others strewn around and hiding in plain sight!

I find myself being asked more and more to give presentations like this and find it both enjoyable and stimulating. There are usually lots of questions at the end.

Finally – I have to try my best to avoid politics, but the current Scottish political scene is so volatile and fast moving that I find myself continually having to bite my tongue – and language is a political weapon in Scotland, Ireland and Appalachia.

Many tongues, many voices – – –

3 Comments

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

Worth their Salt

 Jack’s guest post is actually on Wednesday

My last guest post was about the satisfaction of completing work that I’d spent five years learning as an apprentice painter and decorator.

This one is about the importance of leaving some tasks to other professionals –

The last time we had heavy rain here, which is almost two months ago, we noticed we had a couple of roof leaks. They were in complicated corners of our main roof which had been completely re-shingled about five years ago. This is not my specialty at all, and I no longer have the head for heights that I used to, so it was time to call in the expert. I have the good fortune to be friends with the owner of the biggest construction company around here and he had previously put me in touch with his preferred roofing guy. He came promptly, explained that he was in the middle of a big contract but checked the problem areas and promised to take care of them as soon as possible. Lo and behold, he arrived yesterday, carried out work with no fuss and today it has rained heavily all day with no signs of leaks. The rain is welcome, of course, as it was needed to douse the wild fires over in Tennessee.

This past weekend we spent with Wendy’s parents in Knoxville, where her brother in law Dennis was working most of the time trying to diagnose and fix a long-standing problem with the heat pump (he knows about this stuff). When we got back here on Monday evening we discovered that our heat pump was acting up. I phoned the local company who had installed it three years ago and their engineer came this morning, established the problem and had it working again within an hour.

In both cases the communication ahead of the work was first class, which is something else that I consider a very good sign. I was taught, during my training, as much about customer care as I was about the techniques of applying paint, hanging wallpaper or working safely at heights.

What’s the ‘take-away’ from this?

Know your limitations, trust professionals and don’t grudge paying them their worth, take advice where you can on the reputation of these professionals and treat them with respect. They will have earned your respect and loyalty.

Here’s to my fellow professionals whoever and wherever they are!

3 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

Be Sure your Sins will – – -?

Jack gets to do the Monday book this week –

The Big Short –  Michael Lewis

Of course, the movie is probably just as famous as the book and I’ll have something to say about that later.

Our good friend and financial guru David recommended this to us because he reckoned it was one of the most eye-opening books he’d ever read about the financial shenanigans that led to the great meltdown of 2008. He described it as “really, really frightening” and he should know!

He also said that he saw no evidence that any lessons had been learned since then (except perhaps in Iceland, where they jailed the bankers, changed the banking regulations and turned around their economy in record time).

The book follows the experiences of a number of people who separately stumbled across an enormous flaw in the mortgage market based on a complete lack of oversight by the rating agencies. The folk involved had different motives for pursuing this: some realized they could make enormous amounts of money by betting that the market would crash, while others were more interested in exposing the crooks and getting the banking regulations changed. The book follows these characters as their paths cross and they become aware of each other, ultimately more or less working together. As they variously stumble across ever more blatant disregard for financial common sense among financial professionals who should also have seen what was wrong, they begin to home in on the rating agencies. That’s when they discover that these agencies, supposedly holding the banks to account, are actually in their pockets.

So, what of the movie?

I actually enjoyed it just as much as the book but for different reasons. Of course the movie has to be much shorter and that’s hard to pull off. You need to keep the essentials and be careful what gets cut out. I think, in this case, it was a good idea to not have the author of the book write the screenplay (in fact I think it almost always is.) I recently watched a film that was directed and cast by the author of the book it was based on, and who also wrote the screenplay – it went straight from a limited theater run to the Netflix ‘B list’ with barely a pause.

So, what’s the ‘take away’ from the book? In the case of this reader, a profound belief that human greed will always manage to dress itself in respectable clothes, attend the right Church, give to the most fashionable charities (or start one) and find the most influential politicians to bribe.

Something else I took away – potential move to Iceland – – –

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

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.

banner

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!

Leave a comment

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

Numberless Blessings – –

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post finally managed to get out on Wednesday –

I used to joke that I must have been frightened by a math teacher as a child, because I’ve all my life had a problem with numbers. Not basic arithmetic, I hasten to add; I’ve never had a problem with that and it has been enough for me to get by – mostly.

I left primary school at the age of eleven with a perfectly confident attitude to numbers based on my excellent score in the ‘qualifying exam’ that put me straight into the top class at the local high school.

That’s when the problem started. Algebra raised its ugly head and each year I dropped further down the range of classes. It was math that was skewing everything else I was doing and I finally left school at the age of sixteen with no qualifications at all, despite enjoying English, French, Art and History.

During the ensuing five years of a painting and decorating apprenticeship I attended the local college, where I found that I could attend evening classes to get the qualifications I’d missed out on at high school. So I finally got Higher English and – wait for it – Arithmetic.

Skipping along a good few years, I went on to teach construction calculation to generations of painting apprentices, which only required facility in arithmetic. I developed a particular ability to ‘connect’ with students who had also experienced the same difficulties as I had. All went well until a few years before I retired, when I was prevailed upon by the college Principal to study for an MBA. Because I had no previous degree level qualification I had to sit two entrance tests – one in verbal reasoning and the other in math. I got the highest score they had ever recorded in verbal reasoning and a measly 30% in math! They allowed me in, but with misgivings about my ability to handle the math.

There I met my old enemy algebra again. Worse, his obsessive-compulsive second cousin dominated the course: Statistics – STATISTICS!!

I finished the whole program in time to retire (taking Stats twice along the way) and then Wendy and I moved to the States and opened a bookstore.

So now I do percentages, and tax equations and amortizations and – wait for it – market share statistics for the bookstore, our Celtic Festival, Wendy’s cat rescue, and other fun life events. It’s different, somehow, when it’s about real life. Not just numbers in a classroom. That’s precisely how I taught calculation to my painting students, come to think of it.

What were the odds that I would end up using all that math I learned? Actually, I know how to calculate that….

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

Afterwords Bookstore Speaks….

This might be one of the sweetest press releases ever!  Jack and I head off Tuesday to speak at Afterwords Books.

Turning Retail Stores Into Community Resources
Bookstore Owners Lead Discussion for Local Business Owners at Special Event in Edwardsville

EDWARDSVILLE, ILL. October 11, 2013 – How can locally-owned businesses stay at the top of shoppers’ minds in a world dominated by big box stores and online retailers? On October 22, 2013, two family-run bookstore owners – one from Edwardsville, Ill. and one from Big Stone Gap, Va. – will share their stories how they transformed their stores into community hubs in order to drive sales.

Like many locally-owned retailers, LuAnn Locke of Afterwords Bookstore in Edwardsville faced an uphill battle in encouraging residents to shop local. As a bookstore owner, it was even more challenging with the proliferation of e-readers in the market. On the verge of closing shop, Locke connected with Wendy Welch, owner of Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore in Virginia and author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. Through her experience and buoyed by the lessons of Welch, Locke transformed Afterwords into a community resource for book lovers and was able to stay in business.

On October 22, Welch and Locke will join together at Afterwords to lead a discussion on how local businesses can be more than retail stores – they can be gathering spots that encourage community interaction to help boost sales. Welch and Locke will share best practices, grassroots marketing efforts and in-store programs that helped their businesses survive in a competitive marketplace.

Said Locke, “Welch’s book was instrumental in our decision to keep fighting the good fight – to continue to believe in Afterwords Books and what it means to our community. She has inspired to me to make the store a place where book lovers can connect over their shared interests and boost interest in reading throughout the region.”

Small business owners and the public alike are welcome to join in the discussion, starting at 7 p.m. Refreshments will be served, and a 20 percent discount will be offered on all book club selections. Afterwords Books is located at 232 Buchanan Street in Edwardsville, Ill. For more information about Afterwords or its upcoming events, visit www.afterwordsusedbooks.com or call 618-655-0355.

About Afterwords Books: Afterwords Books is a family owned and operated bookstore in Edwardsville, Ill. Afterwords offers customers both new and used books, a trade for credit program, free children’s story times, book clubs for all ages, a monthly documentary club, educational toys, and unique gifts crafted from local artisans. As a locally-owned store dedicated to the community, Afterwords is committed to serving as a community resource and gathering place for fans of the written word. For more information, visit www.afterwordsusedbooks.com.

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, publishing, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, writing