Tag Archives: independent bookstores

Let it Stop, Let it Stop, Let it Stop!

Jack’s guest blog this week tackles marriage in a snowstorm

The  snow storms of the last few weeks have confined us both to the shop as the campus location of Wendy’s day-job has been closed, along with many other businesses in town. Recently I checked in with our vet, Saint Beth,  and her chiropractor husband TNB, newlyweds also snowed in. TNB (his real name is Brandon) said that, with both his and his wife’s practices closed: “I’m awaiting orders on what we will build, move, clean, or restore next.”

Amen, brother.

With no hiding place I have had to suffer the full glare of my wife’s ever more frenetic plans. Floors have been scrubbed, shelves re-positioned, questions about how (or why) we do (or don’t) do certain things (in certain ways) asked. While it certainly helped that we had very few customers for the same reason we were trapped, what didn’t were the frequent phone calls from folk asking to us to take in freezing stray kittens – – –

Our good friend ‘Saint’ Beth’s animal hospital was also snowed in and she had 8 kittens that needed somewhere warm and safe so they were added to our own 4 kitty employees. Add up the litter tray and feeding requirements!

12 cats and kittens chasing each other over and through the shelves can scatter an awful lot of books. So I imagine you might be getting a picture of the general scene now? Book replacing, shelf re-positioning, floor scrubbing, picture re-hanging, kitten boxes, phone calls about stray cats and all.

Meanwhile the cafe did (mostly) manage to operate as usual thanks to our 4 wheel drive truck that managed to get chef Kelley in from her house each day, but that quickly became an emergency feeding center for the elderly and infirm within delivery distance. Kelley and Wendy delivered meals three days running.

There were times when it was a relief to go out and shovel snow, I tell you. But weather forecasts for next week are good, so we’re all looking forward to better times. And even in the midst of all this chaos, we still managed to have two Friday concerts and adopt out three cats.

It’s not so bad…..

2 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, crafting, Downton Abbey, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Heating With Books

books 010Now don’t judge me for what I’m about to tell you. Because every one of us who runs a bookstore has had to face this dilemma at one point or another, and if I do say so myself, Jack and I have found a creative and elegant solution.

Bookstores have unsellable books. It happens. 1970s manuals on why the Rapture will be within the next 10 years – reprinted in the 1980s and 1990s. At which point I assume the preacher died and went to his Heavenly Reward. (I’m not cynical, just have a wicked sense of humor and a healthy disrespect for fearmongering versus “This is God. Get to know God. It’s important.”)

Then there are the Arthur Hailey novels, the 1960s Fiction Book of the Month Club, and Thomas Costain.

Costain works the best for our purposes, because his paperbacks are nice and thick. Still, the book club editions stack well.

books 009Around the walls. We finally sat down and worked out a solution to “What are we gonna do about our heating bills” for this 1903 drafty monstrosity of a bookstore we live in. We needed to insulate better. What did we have to do it with?

Why hel-LO there, Danielle Steel! Steamy heated love scenes? Perfect for under the windows. We lined all the outer walls of our shop with romances, has-been how-tos, hardback fiction that’s been there, done that, and a few copies of  Time Life Big Books.

Thin, those, but nice and tall for the corners.

We got heat, ladies and gentlemen, and those books are getting the dignified retirement they deserve. If someone actually wanted to buy one, I’d have to explain that market value would be determined by the temperature outside, of course. Not that anyone will. These books are elegantly unsellable.books 008

And thick. And weighty. And perfect. We are WARM! Our heating bill is going down. And we culled our shelves. Life is going great in these sub-zero temperatures.

Jack and I live in a house lined with books. Go by, cold world!

10 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Home Sweet Bookstore

What with our Chile vacation, log cabin Christmas and then my unexpected trip to Scotland for the funeral of my old friend Davy, I haven’t had a great deal of time in the bookstore over the last couple of months.

But now I’m back in harness it’s like slipping on a well worn pair of favorite slippers. The routine we’ve established over the last seven years (I know it’s that long because our local newspaper had us on a special tribute page to much loved and established downtown businesses last week) covers, of course, much more than just selling books. There’s keeping the place clean, looking after the cats and dogs, liaising with Kelley and ‘The Second Story Cafe’, sorting the daily influx of traded books and writing weekly guest blog posts like this one.

On top of that I need to keep up with my weekly radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’, and contribute to the various Facebook accounts that relate in one way or another to us or Tales of the Lonesome Pine.

I remember some years ago, when I was still working in a community college in Scotland, meeting a recently retired colleague in the street and asking how he was enjoying his retirement. “Jack” he said “it was made for a younger man than me!” Although I can sympathize with his sentiment, I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to think I regret anything about my current workload. In fact I positively relish it and I feel sorry for folk who spend their retirement either pining for their former job or wandering aimlessly.

There’s an old Scots saying – East, West, hame’s best. I think for me it should be – North, South, East, West, the little bookstore hame’s best!

1 Comment

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

Remember Customer Service? We do.

Little Bookstore is one of several on a list of second-hand bookslingers who trade ideas and share knowledge–including that there’s such a thing as being TOO local. People can take the approach that you must be in this small town because you couldn’t make it in the big city; I’ve just come back from an economic summit where rural town managers discussed this problem.

Being too local is a problem anytime of year, but at Christmas, people can also eschew specialty businesses because they believe making a mad dash through the discount warehouses will be “cheaper and more convenient.”

(Yeah, and the shortcut is always faster….)

Small Business Saturday and the Christmas season tend to be a special challenge for bookstores because much of our unique charm lies in our handselling technique; a proprietor knows his or her customers, and has developed a relationship of trust, of not trying to just sell, sell, sell but to match. We take pride in matching the correct book to the right person. Trust is the foundation of customer service, trying to help the customer rather than meet an imposed quota.

Everybody sells books at Christmas, but who can greet you by name, ask how your niece liked Divergent, suggest a new detective series because they know you like mysteries themed around food? Or, who can meet you for the first time, listen to a list of the last five books your dad read and what he thought of them, and then suggest the perfect present based on that information? How much time will you save with that kind of service?

That’s what we do, and what our friends in the bookselling business do. Because we are our businesses; we don’t just work for them. We believe in selling you what you want, not what you’ve been told you need. And we believe you are your own person.

Visit your local bookseller this holiday season–be it Paperback Book Exhange in Neenah, Wisconsin; Al’s Books out in Kansas; maybe that sweet little Country Bookshop in North Carolina; or one of the other 2,500-or-so used book shops across America. The coffee will be hot, the chairs comfy, the kittens purring, and the proprietors ready to listen, serve, and smile.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

Books a Bazillion

In which Jack returns to writing his weekly blog post, and sighs patiently over a subject known only too well to bookslingers everywhere.

garbage-landfill Yesterday one of our cafe regulars asked if we bought books. I explained that we didn’t, but gave store credit if the trade-ins met our needs and standards.

“Oh, I can just donate them,” he said, and headed for his van.

That seemed like a clue that these weren’t going to be top of the line, but I went out to watch him struggle up the front steps with an enormous TV box–the kind I advise folk not to use, as they weigh a ton when full of books.

A better man would have helped, but I admit to you my moral failing: I knew what was coming and just didn’t care.

A quick glance established that most of his donations were older Grishams and Pattersons; to add insult to injury, they were minus their dust jackets. After explaining as gently as I could that  these were pretty much useless to us, I raked through to find eight acceptable hardbacks as well as more (useless) battered paperbacks. At this point he shrugged and said he’d got them from a friend.

(So – a friendship wall?)

This was the third time in as many days we’d had much the same experience, having to explain that we don’t take hardbacks minus their jackets, torn or stained paperbacks, romances including Danielle Steel or kids’ coloring books already colored in. It’s the law of used book shops: people don’t want to dump, so they donate. And they mean well for the most part, but a couple months of that, and customers will have a hard time differentiating your shop from a dump site.

Surveying our store the other week, with its spiraling pinwheels of shelves moving toward the center of every room, eking out the final frontiers of space, I resolved to become even more choosy about what to accept. And perhaps instigate a cull.

After all, folk are generally pretty sanguine when I explain our policy. What I hope is that people will begin to weed out themselves before bringing stuff to us, but in the meantime, I’ll stifle a sigh. And maybe help with the box next time.

Perhaps I can build a garden wall somewhere with all those jacketless Grishams and Pattersons? Wendy would like that….

16 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, book repair, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, reading, small town USA

Fifteen Adults Laughing very hard Together

We’d been plotting the Cards Against Humanity game for a long time. Susan and David Hamrick, some of our favorite people on Earth, had recently lost Hazel, the beloved eldercat who sparked public outrage in Southwest Virginia when her owner surrendered her to the shelter at the age of 20; Hazel’s plight birthed a webpage for eldercat advocacy.

David and Susan also adopted Mal, the high-expense, high-care kitten with the cleft palate who crossed the bookstore lawn about a month before. So planning the CaH game was a chance for Hazel’s ashes to return to her hometown, Mal to see his adoring public now his feeding tube was out, and us to see David and Susan.

The participant list grew. Local doctors looking for a fun weekend (I work with regional medical recruitment); our sainted vet Beth, who diagnosed both Mal and Hazel free of charge; her husband TNB (we call Brandon That Nice Boy Beth Married, TNB for short); and a plethora of others, most of whom have adopted a cat from us. Being adult professionals, we had salad and vegetarian curry, black bean chili, and – in honor of Beth’s recent birthday – Peanut Butter Chocolate Reese Butterfingers Eight-Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Health care professionals know how to party.

And then the CaH came out, with the expander pack. Beth put bottles of her homemade Merlot on the table, and David set out his carefully hoarded Ben Nevis single malt.

But the fun started before the drinking, because the first card out of the gate was something like “How do you get laid?”

After Brandon won with a card that suggested certain specific activities in very precise anatomical locations, I turned to him and said, “I’m never calling you ‘That Nice Boy’ again.”

It all kinda took off from there.

There is something wonderfully healing about 15 adults sitting around a table acting like adolescents who have a deep background in politics. People literally snorted whisky out their noses, we laughed so hard.

And about every 15 minutes, someone shouted “Kid!” and the room went silent as the four young boys hanging out downstairs in the children’s room, playing with kittens under the supervision of a teen, came up and helped themselves to soda.

(Susan and I sent David and Jack to the store for children’s drinks before the party. They returned with a bottle of Mountain Dew. We sent them back for ginger ale.)

In the silence of an early “not in front of the children” moment, David said, “Did everyone enjoy the lovely weather today?” and we all died laughing again.

And again a minute later, when the winning response to “What are Jack and Leroy doing in the basement?” (there are blank cards for making up your own question) turned out to be “Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II.”

Jack’s praying for Scottish Independence, come September. He and Leroy were downstairs sorting a quick plumbing problem before joining the game.

Yeah, it’s raucous and raunchy and irreverent, but CaH is such good steam-valve-release fun. We play by the “everybody gets one veto” rule. Donald refused to play a Holocaust card; I put back “The Blood of Christ”; Kelley doesn’t allow the one about a pool of children’s tears. Everybody has limits.

But few and far between, for the most part, and sitting there watching 15 adults return to high school in their brains while eating vegetables and drinking responsibly, laughing themselves silly in good company, I couldn’t help thinking, “This is why Jack and I started a bookstore.”

Sitting around that table: two cancer patients, the mother of another, a cancer survivor, three medical professionals who make life-and-death decisions every day, a government employee, two professors, a couple trying to get pregnant, four people who lost parents this year, and two newly-fledged adults launching into the world. This world.

To have these moments, this place, where you can stop being the Responsible Adult, cut loose, and enjoy life is a rare and wonderful thing. We’re so lucky to be able to do this.

 

1 Comment

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

MORE AUTHOR HUMILIATIONS

Johnathan Rand is a household name if you’ve got kids. His RandAmerican Chillers series, Michigan Chillers series, and Freddie Fernortner-Fearless First Grader series have more than 5 million copies in print. But even highly successful authors aren’t immune to the vagaries of humiliation; read on. (And then check out his website: www.americanchillers.com).

On Saturday, April 28, 2001, I was scheduled for a signing at a Large-But-Now-Deservedly-Defunct-Chain-Bookstore. Upon arrival, I was informed that the manager had been on vacation for ‘some time.’ No one at the store knew about the signing.

The publisher had sent a dozen 18″ by 26″ posters for in-store promotion; they had not been placed. The store also received over 1,000 4″ by 6″ bag stuffers advertising the event. Again, these had gone unused. The press releases provided hadn’t been sent out, no media had been contacted.

The predictable result? Not a single person showed up. Note that the vast majority of my events tend to be capacity-positive, and most stores utilize a numbering system for customers to organize the flow of the line. Case in point: at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Saginaw, Michigan, the very next day, there were over 600 kids waiting for the signing to begin.

Hmmph…..

Could it get any worse? Oh yes. Just ask Joe Cobb Crawford, author of The Poetry Company:

My agent scheduled me to do a signing at a book store that had shuttered their doors two weeks prior to my arrival. No one told me. I showed up to see a sign reading “Out of Business.” This was to be my first ever book signing. Add to the embarrassment, this store was located near my childhood home town and some friends and relatives were to attend. Lucky for me, and with no help from my agent, a kind gentleman and owner of another book store in the town allowed the signing to be held at his book store.

(Joe’s website is http://crawfordpoetrycompany.com/ and he will be putting out a book of humiliation experiences this fall, entitled What the Bookman Saw.)

 

 

 

Author:

Books:

Leave a comment

Filed under bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing, YA fiction