Tag Archives: independent bookstores

A guest blog from TWO BEARS FARM

This blog is from Lisa, who blogs at twobearsfarm.com, about her visit to our bookshop. Thank you, Lisa!

A while ago my mom loaned me a book called The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.  A memoir, it sat on my bookshelf for a while before I read it and discovered it was so much better than I ever expected.  I fell in love with the quirky used bookstore in Big Stone Gap, and suggested to my parents (who both enjoyed the book, too) that we go there.

Big Stone Gap is waaaaayyyy down in the deep southwest of the state.  It took us a while to get there.  On the way we stopped at a farm to table restaurant in Meadowview called Harvest Table where I got the best grilled chicken sandwich ever.  I never even knew chicken could taste like that. On homemade focaccia with a remoulade sauce, it was the most tender, most flavorful chicken in existence.  If you are ever out that way (and you probably won’t be), be sure to stop in.

Eventually, we made it to Big Stone Gap, deep in the Appalachian mountains.  The bookstore didn’t disappoint.   The boys had a blast exploring all the rooms and carrying around the six (!) foster kittens in residence.  We all found a few books we needed.

On the way home we took a little detour through Lebanon so I could see the area where my grandfather’s family lived.  I enjoyed seeing his old stomping ground, imagining him as a young boy there with his siblings.

It was a lot of driving for one day, but included unique experiences, and I got to see some beautiful areas of the state I had never seen before.  Plus, that chicken sandwich?  Totally worth seven hours of driving.

Readers – have you ever gone out of your way to see a place from a book or a movie?

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

A Story within a Story within a Signature

Wendy is on a tight writing deadline before holidays next week, so Jack takes up the keyboard and presents this guest blog.

We often have folk come in to ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ bookstore carrying a copy of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and hoping to meet Wendy. They come from all over the country and even from other countries. Their personal tales frequently carry on a theme of the book, that the customers’ stories are as important as those in the books we sell.

One of the other conversations in Wendy’s book was about the fact that some products that are sold on from one owner to another only benefit the creator the first time they’re sold – houses, books etc. The result of the exchange was that there wasn’t much to be done about it, nor should there be. Another question was how long  ‘The Little Bookstore’ would circulate in used book stores.

To our great amusement we received a lovely card from a fan in New York a couple of months after the first publication, saying how much he’d enjoyed the book and that he’d bought it for $10 in a used book store. He enclosed a $10 bill just to prove that the author was wrong!

But today topped that. (Drum roll, please….)

Three couples had been through the store today looking for Wendy, so when I looked out the window and saw a woman holding a copy of the book and the husband taking pictures, I knew what they were about. Sure enough, Carol and Paul were on a trip back to Cary, NC and came the long way through Big Stone Gap to see the bookstore because they loved the book and follow Wendy’s blog.

However, their story had a twist. Carol loved Wendy’s book, which she’d paid $5.99 for in a used book store, already signed to someone called Laura. And she’d come to get Wendy to sign it again, having read the conversations about second hand books in Little Bookstore.

We had a lovely chat (they are also cat lovers) and then I signed her copy and so did Wendy – but check out the picture to see how she did it.

carol

May the circle be unbroken, Laura – wherever you are!

 

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A Little Ditty about a Ditzy Moment

crazy bookstoreFor some reason our bookstore FB page’s banner photo has been attracting attention again. Granted, it is a weird photo, and my favorite story about it used to be that it featured a national Korean magazine story about it. So over in Korea, people now think they know SW VA based on this photo. Think about it……

But this is my new favorite response. Our own local poet and part-time bookstore employee James Ryan penned this as a photo caption:

THE BOOKSTORE

Here’s just a little jingle
About a place to mingle
When your mind is tired and sore
There’s a quiet place
And a smiling face
At Tales of The Lonesome Pine Bookstore

You can pet a cat
Now imagine that
‘Til you are thoroughly smitten
You’ll find that adoption
Is a really good option
For that cute and playful kitten

You can find a book
In some bright nook
Or is it maybe a cranny
It’s a wonderful place
For the whole human race
You can even bring your Granny

If you’re in the mood
For some home-made food
Just visit our crowning glory
Because it’s really neat
To sit and eat
In the Café on the second story

The bookstore opens at ten
Tuesday thru Saturday is when
And the café opens at eleven
If your time allows
You can eat then browse
In our little slice of Heaven

So please come sit
And share your wit
With anyone who has time to do it
It’s a marvelous bookstore
And I’ll tell you what’s more
That’s our tale and we’re sticking to it

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

In Which Jack Pontificates on Customer Service

Jack’s weekly guest blog traces the odd path from management guru to bookseller

It’s funny the things that come into your mind!

Way back when, I was working in my college in Scotland at a time when ‘Heid Bummers’ (Principal and Depute Principal) were under pressure to flatten the rather hefty management hierarchy and make things more dynamic. They set out to radically restructure the staffing, and for some reason they had been watching me and decided that I had a much more ‘collegiate’ model for working with my colleagues than the rest of the staff in my department. Thus I was appointed Head of Department and told to “make them more collegiate.” After a couple of rocky years, things settled down and I’m proud to say that I eventually won everyone round to my way of working.

Some years later I wound up teaching management courses and ultimately studied for, and gained my MBA from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. As part of those studies, of course, I did a lot of research into organizational structures, management styles, team dynamics, marketing and motivational theories.

Now, anyone who has read ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’ will be wondering how on earth I could think of getting involved in starting our bookstore and even more how we could have made a success of it, given what I’ve described above. But there were some insights I could bring and that we have put into practice. Probably the main one is that the customer is absolutely the first priority, come what may.

I was pondering this today for some reason and found myself picturing a continuum with high staff convenience at one end and high customer convenience at the other and contemplated where we might fit along that line.

Wendy and I had noticed, when we first came here, that businesses in small towns sometimes open and close very randomly on a whim; they might have opening hours posted but you could never be sure until you tried the door. We could never understand this when we visited such places, as it seemed crazy to us. When our chef par-excellence Kelley had to close the café this week to go to Chicago to help her sister recover from surgery, she made sure that all her customers and potential customers knew well ahead of time, and I’m very pleased to say that so far there have been no disappointed regulars.

It’s important to make sure that we are open when we say we will be, so we have both short term and long term ‘shop-sitters’ to ensure that. Everyone who comes through the door is treated with value and respect; we order books for customers when they aren’t in stock, repair battered family Bibles that are family heirlooms and don’t mind if folk just come in for a chat.

So where would be positioned along the line? Of course we’d like to think we’re at the customer focused end, but it’s really difficult to know. There are lots of different factors that can affect the continuing success of a small business in this part of the world – people move in and out of town, the economy takes a dip, a local clique decides to attack, etc.

But one thing I’m certain of – it’s all about the customers!

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The State we’re (not quite) in.

Jack’s guest blog post is a little late this week –

In the middle of all the hoo-ha in NC just now with big music stars cancelling appearances in protest against the so-called religious freedom legislation, I noticed an appeal by Malaprops bookstore. An author scheduled to do a signing had cancelled and they argued that he should have come and shown solidarity with a business that opposed the new law.

I suppose because it is one of our favorite bookstores (and Wendy has done a signing there herself) it made me pay a bit more attention to the question.

Of course this has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with blind prejudice.

It’s ironic that many of the early European settlers braved a dangerous journey across the Atlantic in small sailing ships in order to escape prejudice. Over time, of course, it would be their descendants who would revert to putting up the shutters against Irish, Italians, Japanese, Jews, Mexicans, Hispanics etc., etc. You don’t have to dig too far into that list to see religious overtones either.

The worst example, and its legacy is still with us, is color prejudice – something so deeply rooted that I fear it will take many generations to completely die out.

A further irony is that one of the things that makes the United States distinctive in the world is its culture – the art, music, dance and storytelling traditions that mix and blend threads from all the individual cultures of the incomers along with the Native Americans who were already here.

It’s the artists who are in the vanguard of this latest battle and I salute their integrity in the face of this degrading, politically populist and downright rabble-rousing move. Wendy and I love Asheville and visit the city frequently to enjoy its cafes, shops and very European atmosphere. It’s very hard to believe what’s going on in the state as you wander through its downtown mingling with the street musicians, mime artists, dog walkers et al.

And, what of Malaprops’ cancelled signing? For what it’s worth I think that got more attention than a few words on the day would have.

 

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Filed under bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

– – – Work for Idle Hands

Jack’s weekly guest blog post –

February (and just imagine a Scotsman’s pronunciation of that word) is always a quiet time in the bookstore as far as customer numbers is concerned. But don’t let that fool you!

This is the time when bookstore owners take care of all the jobs that there’s little space for during the busier months. That’s why we chose now to lay the new floor covering in the bookstore kitchen area.

It’s when we give the place a good clean from top to bottom, look at whether the shelving is appropriate or any repairs are needed, fix that dribbling toilet tank.

Then there are the books we have listed on-line to be re-checked to see if the prices are still competitive and whether any need to be culled and re-shelved in the shop. While we’re doing that we need to check whether customers have also re-shelved any books inappropriately and move them back to their rightful places. This is also a good time to check the alphabetizing by author in the various sections – we don’t have a computerized database of our stock, so that makes it much easier to find things when customers have a specific request.

One of the reasons why this month is quiet is because it’s just so damned cold out, so this is also when we check all the windows and doors for draughts and proof them where necessary.

But just because there are fewer customers doesn’t mean there are none at all, so we still have to make sure that the shop is accessible. The room where all our Westerns are located lies beyond the area that we re-floored and, of course, two customers specifically came looking for Westerns as we were in the middle of that!

Finally, just because there are fewer bookstore customers doesn’t mean there are fewer café clients looking for lunch, so the menu gets tweaked to suit the weather with hearty soups and warming chillies and we create more evening events with themed dinners.

How many other bookstore owners out there are following a similar regime this time of year?

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Remodeling #10

 

Jack’s weekly guest post –

Since we moved in here ten years ago we (and that means mostly I) have carried out some serious building projects. Some were simply needed because of the age of the building (built in 1903), some we chose to do and others were needed to meet certain legal requirements.

The first was redecorating most of the upstairs to make that area pleasant as living quarters, then I walled in the open car port to turn it into a garage complete with a window and an ‘up and over’ main door. Next was building a disabled ramp at the side of the porch and then re-shingling the roof. The upstairs bathroom got a complete make-over and shortly after we got a grant to completely renovate the front porch. We had earlier built a fire escape stair from upstairs which doubled as access to the yard for our dogs Zora and Bert, which turned out to be handy when we opened The Second Story Café.

Before we opened the café I had turned our dismal and cobwebby basement into our new living quarters (that’s chronicled in an earlier blog post) but I also had to install additional sinks and an extraction system in the upstairs kitchen. We had never had a separate heat and air system upstairs, so the advent of the café meant fitting a heat pump in the attic, running ducts to all the rooms and cutting holes in all the ceilings (very messy!).

Most of these jobs were interesting and challenging and I felt a definite sense of pride in my contribution to them although confirmed in my nervousness about plumbing and electrical work.

However, the latest jobs I had been putting to the end of the queue for years. The downstairs kitchen and bathroom both had old worn and curling vinyl flooring and I had been dreading fixing them. The first to be done was the bathroom and I used a floating planks system that proved much easier than I expected, so then it was time for the kitchen. We had divided this room with bookshelves as well as installing more along the walls on one side, so all the books had to be boxed and stored wherever we could find a corner followed by removing all the shelving into the garage. My good friend David Hamrick had arrived on Friday to help me and Wendy began boxing books on Saturday. By Sunday lunchtime we had all the books and shelves out and had started laying the new floor – more floating planks. By Monday afternoon we had the floor finished and the shelves back in place and this morning the last of the books were back.

DSCN1685

The old floor

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– and the new one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m absolutely sure of one thing though – there’s another job just waiting around the corner!

 

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Filed under bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch