Tag Archives: Second Story Cafe

We’re Still Having Fun

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Wendy and I often have conversations on Facebook with other owners of small independent bookstores – usually about how to drive more customers through the door. The trouble is that every bookstore is unique in some way, be that the character of the owners, the geographical position of the shop, the demographic of the local population, etc, etc.

Our own strategies have been many and varied and some are detailed in ‘The Little Bookstore’. They have ranged from the early days of me handing out flyers outside the local Super-Wallie to running community events in the store. Flyers are good when you’re getting established. Community events are good for two reasons – publicity and bringing in new folk who might become regular customers.

This is where local circumstances come into play; Wendy and I live in the same building as the bookstore so it’s no biggie for us to run events. It might not be so easy for others.

We are currently running a ‘give-away’ competition for boxes of children’s and young adult books aimed at the local schools. This is partly because we simply have too many, but also to help raise awareness among school staff, parents and students that we are here and our children’s books are cheap even when you have to buy them.

We have also found that opening a cafe created spin-off business between the two. Of course that means finding the space, meeting health inspection rules (GOATS!), and identifying someone with the skills and personality with whom you can comfortably work, etc, etc. We were very lucky to find Our Good Chef Kelley as a partner!

Finally, it certainly helps to write and have published a best-selling memoir all about your bookstore. That has brought lots of people from around the country (and abroad) to visit us who generally don’t leave without buying books and eating lunch. As I write this a couple from Fairfax sit upstairs in the cafe; they drove all the way here because of the book. They have a book club who all read Wendy’s book and are talking about a group visit. That would certainly involve an overnight stay, so additional business for the town as well.

And after finally (well, a post-script then) it pays to have fun. Enjoy what you’re doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life. :]

 

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

Onward Christian Snowmen – Let It Go!

We’ve been snowed in for 11 days now in Wise County, with a couple of breaks wherein 4WD vehicles went ‘round gathering everyone’s grocery lists to make a provisions dash down the mountain and back. We no longer think snow days are fun.

You have to remember the above fact as the story I’m about to tell accumulates its layers, or you’ll miss the joy of it. And don’t get off the path; the sh—er, snow is deep in some places.

During the first week of snow–or, as we now call it, the light dusting–a nice man named Alex and his friends built a giant snowman: 15 feet! They’re tall guys and they used ladders and put a cross on its chest and a “God’s Got This” t-shirt (from a fundraising and support campaign for local kids with cancer) where its breast pocket would be, like an old-fashioned gentleman’s hankie. Orange solo cups for eyes, a wide stick smile, arms raised to heaven: they surveyed their giant snowman and called it good.

So did the rest of us, when the clouds lifted Saturday and we were able to walk or skid or dogsled to various stores. My friends Elizabeth, Elissa, and I walked to Food City to get a few things, and posed with the snowman along the way. And I blogged the Monday Snowstorm instead of a Monday book.

Barbara, a regular blog reader, sent the photo to the TV station in Roanoke, who displayed it along with a fairly magnificent kangaroo someone else made, and a Marilyn Monroe somewhat the worse for sun.

All fun and games until someone has a weather eye out….

By the time Roanoke News began circulating the photo, we’d been snowed in AGAIN, a whopping 27 inches in just one day. Buildings literally collapsed (including the Wise County Food Pantry for Norton City, with $25K in inventory inside it. The building is a total loss.)

So I don’t blame TCL (The Christian Lady) for being surly. On Tuesday, she reposted the picture Elissa took of Elizabeth and I with this message:

Carolyn

Small towns are amazing places. Kelley and I spent most of yesterday afternoon trying to find houses people had called in to the café, where those who couldn’t get out would appreciate hot soup and a sandwich. Nobody in a small town uses numeric addresses. (“Turn where the old Family Dollar used to be” one lady told me.) Kelley was donated the money to make two vats of soup after she started doing this on her own the day before, and walking it to houses in the neighborhood because no one could drive. With the aid of our 4WD supertruck, we made it all the way to East Stone Gap and back, trudging through sludge and up roads we didn’t know existed. And everywhere we were met with smiling people with snow shovels who helped us get through, drivers who waited patiently in their cars for us to back up after realizing what we were doing, a guy who stuck his head out the window and said, “Y’all need any money to help do this?” and other kind souls.

But we also saw people who were tired—of snow, of trying to stay warm, of being afraid that something in the house would run out, of being alone.

We’re all on edge, pretty much trying not to murder each other with axes at this point. So when TCL posted her “intent-to-shame,” other people jumped her. Understandably, TCL did not like being jumped, and said many things, including that God had told her to post.

As Christians, we are called to be Salt of the Earth. Which would melt the snowman, I guess. Maybe we should just take TCL’s whole approach with a grain of salt.

I contacted the snowman maker to ask if the accumulating flakes of Snowmangate were associated with him. He was unaware until then, but assured me he didn’t have a problem with our picture. In fact, he was proud to know that his Snow Preacher had circulated so widely.

And I felt I had to come clean. Because, far worse than re-enacting an ugly scene from the Bible, Elizabeth, Elissa and I had thought the snowman was a vampire. His smile was down when we came by, no t-shirt. Glowing orange eyes, claw hands raised in menace to the sky, crucifix sunk into his chest (the sun had been our friend that day) – what’s a bookstore owner who sells six paranormal romances per week to think?

And a fairly magnificent vampire at that, waiting for midnight to rise from his frozen bed and take to the streets, looking for the only people out in those conditions: salt truck drivers, EMTs, and police, poor souls. We couldn’t have him picking off the very county workers we needed most, so we prepared to drive a stake through his heart. But he was too tall, and–as Elissa pointed out– already leaning precariously, so we went on to the store.

Alex laughed hysterically online Tuesday night. TCL, however, was not amused. Words that included “fess up and apologize to all her Christian customers and to the people who took the time to build that lovely snowman for all of us to enjoy” finally clued me in.

There’s not much clear here in Big Stone Gap, as we all brace for yet another snowstorm tonight, and everything that can be closed remains so for the eighth day running, but I give you two fundamental principles on which to lay your firm foundation:

1) TCL is probably out of medication because her road is snowed in.

2) Getting hot over a snowman is one of the funniest things this town has seen in a lonnnnnng time – and that’s saying something, because we have collectively survived the scandal over where to put the Farmers Market, the unification of high schools, and updating our ancient town water pipes (causing old houses everywhere to pop their u-joints like champagne corks).

We can weather a little storm on a snow shovel. Onward, Christian Snowman. Let It Go…….

 

BTW if you want to send a donation to help the Food Bank, it’s

The Food Bank of Wise County P.O. Box 2977, Wise, VA 24293.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Triple Play Weekend

Jack’s guest blog on our unusually busy bookstore weekend

harrellIt was a triple play weekend here at the Little Bookstore. Friday night we had an excellent and well attended house-concert with Michael Reno Harrell, whose stories and songs were absolutely first class.You can see a video of him on our bookstore facebook page Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC.

cards-against1Then on Saturday night we had our bi-monthly ‘Cards against Humanity’ game night, also well attended and as hilarious as ever. The play of the night came when, using a blank card, Wendy asked “How did Susan persuade David to take in their latest adopted cat?” Several cards appeared–including the one no one would admit playing, “That Ass,”–but the winning card was “Abstinence.”

Played by David.

I had no idea Susan’s face could turn as red as her hair.

And then Sunday night was an event that I set up: a special movie night featuring ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, preceded by a documentary with Terry Jones and Michael Palin visiting the Scottish castles they used in the film. I aimed it at local folk who had been on my annual Scottish tour (and had, therefore seen at least one of the castles). That was another good night with lots of laughs and a lovely feel of reunion among those who’ve gone to Scotland with me.

This weekend Wendy and I emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival in Elizabethton (TN). And then at the end of the month, our own Big Stone Celtic festival is upon us here in town!

And, just as I thought I was finished writing this, a couple arrived all the way from Nashville who had read Wendy’s book, used to own a bookstore, and are now planning to do it again. At the same time, the mailman delivered a lovely thank-you card from the 17 members of a Johnson City book club who visited us a couple of weeks ago (and ate lunch in our cafe).

Just in case this sounds too idyllic, our old and rickety building still tests my less than professional carpentry and plumbing skills. I loathe and detest sink drains and stairs, but that’s what I’m doing between bouts of nerves over the upcoming Big Stone Celtic.

So – just another typical week. If it’s Wednesday, it must be time to check on our international superstar coming from Scotland. And then I’ll tighten the u-joint in the bathroom. Hey ho…..

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Shopsitter Janelle’s Guest Blog

Janelle on porchThe idea for a trip to Virginia to shopsit was hatched on a quiet April night in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, when Delaney (my fifth daughter, age 9) and I were volunteering at their library during the Fox Cities Book Festival. We were hosts for Wendy Welch’s event. I’d perused Wendy’s blog and was intrigued by her story and her writing voice, and I was tickled to get to introduce her that evening at the event (that’s a promotion from straight volunteer!).

DSCN0560Delaney and I enjoyed the presentation by Wendy and her husband Jack, and at the end of it we bought a copy of their book, had it signed, took a silly photo with Wendy (Delaney’s request)…and in our parting, I said, “The next time you need a shop sitter, I’m your gal.” I say things like that, and I actually mean them, too.

DSCN0559We friended each other on Facebook later that evening, and it seems like it was just two weeks later when Wendy messaged her summer needs for a shopsitter. I was tickled, but there was a lot to manage yet in my spring schedule, and I couldn’t totally conceive of how it would all work. But it turned out that there was, indeed, a week when my two of my five daughters and I could make it to Virginia. Plans were confirmed.

I’d have loved to have brought all five, but three work all of the hours that they can at their jobs, so  it became clear that Natalie (age 15), Delaney (still 9), and I (age unnecessary) would be going on an adventure.

Janelle sceneryWe departed the Green Bay area at 6:30AM (only 1/2 hour behind our intended departure time) and headed for Big Stone Gap. With only very minor issues (including being flipped off at our first toll stop in Chicago), we very much enjoyed our trip south and east…then east and south…and yet further south…through amazing scenery and gorgeous natural landscapes (more interestingly beautiful the closer we got)…right into Big Stone and right up to the front steps of Tales of the Lonesome Pine (aka the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap), where the lights were on and the beds made in our honor. (Wendy was teaching a night class.) It was just about 8PM, eastern standard time…and the store looked exactly the same as its pictures on the book and in this blog.

We walked in and found our way around the shop/house/cafe according to Wendy’s directions, moved in our luggage, and then walked straight to the Dairy Queen a few blocks away. It called to us. And by the time we returned, Wendy was home.

janelle viewWe visited a bit, got a crash course set of instructions on selling books and collecting for cafe receipts (Delaney was delighted and most excited to be able to help any customers needing to process credit cards) and were told that Wendy would be leaving early the next morning, meaning we would open the shop and start the day that way. Okay! We were ready.

We attempted sleep…and two of the three of us got some. And then it was time. Wendy handed me my first cup of coffee and showed me how and where to get more. From there I could manage anything (I had my cup of joe)! And she was off. In her wake there were a couple of dogs in the shop who needed to be downstairs,by my recollection of instructions, but I got that sorted out, the girls got up and moving, and we were ready for the day.

The books on the shelves called to me, and I perused them with adoration, drawn to familiar authors or titles…or titles that made me giggle or feel intrigued. Wendy said part of the shopsitting deal was we got to take “any and all books you want.”

“Even if I empty out the shelves?” I thought to myself.

I started a stack with a beautiful hardcover copy of Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. Umm…note that said stack is currently divided into two stacks, each a foot-plus high.

janelle basketThere was a long time, though, between 7AM and our 10AM opening. I spent quite a bit of that time looking for light switches (Have you read the book? Then you’ll understand.) and some didn’t get found until helpful Erin arrived. I very much enjoyed the visits with and time spent getting to know Erin and Kelley, chief and sous chefs of the Second Story Cafe upstairs, and she also provided a second and maybe third cup of coffee. (And later bowls of delicious sausage and chicken gumbo. And a grilled cheese sandwich for Delaney.)

Soon the door opened and then I blinked and two days had passed, with the graceful entrances of friendly folks, either to peruse books or to meet Wendy because they’d read Little Bookstore or to eat in the cafe or to pick up food or specifically coming to welcome us. And those at the end of that list certainly made a tremendous impact. How wonderful to be welcomed into this small place; it has big hearts.

And so this is starting, very much, to feel like a treasured other home. (Don’t worry, Jack! We’re not more cats moving in.) I like it here. I enjoy visiting with customers, straightening, sorting, playing with foster kittens, helping folks find books, and “ringing up” purchases. Things got even more exciting Friday when I got to serve a few lunches in the cafe. Mind you, I have zero waitressing experience in my past, but I do LOVE good food and ENJOY good service. So I did do my best; hopefully Kelley thinks so, too.

We have a few more days of fun to go! Stop in and say hello.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, writing, YA fiction

The More the Merrier

Jack’s weekly guest blog on why Big Stone Gap is a great place to visit

It’s always a real pleasure to get unsolicited confirmation that we are doing something right. We got two examples this week and I’ll let them speak for themselves.visitors

First of all, to our great surprise and delight, a link to a terrific write-up about Our Good Chef Kelley and the Second Story Cafe appeared yesterday morning. We had had a visit from photographer Jason Barnette a few weeks ago, which he wrote up on his food blog ‘The Southeastern Traveler’.

http://www.southeasterntraveler.com/blog/2014/05/the-second-story-cafe-is-a-first-story-destination-in-big-stone-gap-va/

Today our phone has been ringing off the hook with folk asking about the cafe hours and where exactly we are.

Inside the bookstore. Yes, that bookstore. :]

Then, yesterday afternoon, we were equally delighted to have a group come into the bookshop who had driven down specially from Harrisonburg, VA just because one of them had read The Little Bookstore and they decided to see it for themselves. They stayed overnight in one of the local hotels and then came back for breakfast here and to shop for books.

As they were leaving they said they would definitely be back and raved about the beauty of the town and its setting. We’re so happy to be one of the many reasons people come to Big Stone Gap. We look forward to the film from Adri’s books, and we look forward to the new local businesses that will spring from increased interest in our area.

And we’re ever so proud to be the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, writing

My Dreams have Tanked…

DSCN0330Regular readers will recall the saga of the basement remodeling, that led to the second story remodeling, which in turn led to my current dilemma – plumbing. I hate plumbing! Actually it scares me sh*tless!! I have nightmares about plumbing.

Ever since the time the town upgraded their water lines–producing extra water pressure that ended up in half the buildings in town being flooded as joints blew–I’ve been in serious dread. On that occasion I ended up lying in 6 inches of water in our upstairs bathroom, almost naked, holding a joint in the line to the commode while smiling at a young police officer who came in response to Wendy’s 911 call. Then I remodeled that bathroom and had to reposition the commode, which retaliated by dumping a steady stream of sewage directly downstairs one horrible day; fortunately we caught it before anything serious happened. “These books are crap” never came so close to being literal truth.

The latest adventure is the basement toilet. Wendy and I set up housekeeping down there recently, after my creating her a “writing room and yarn containment area” turned into “Why don’t you remodel the whole thing, honey?”

Yes, dear….

Like most basements, the sewage line is at near ceiling height and that required an ‘up-pump’ toilet, which needed a water line, a connection to the drain and running a vent to the outside of the building. I discovered during the process of hooking it up that there are a million different sized pipes described as “half inch” but none of them are and none of them can be connected together. Then we also needed a sink; what is it with sink drains that are a different size from standard?

Just about the last plumbing job was to remove a brick in the wall to allow exit for the vent pipe. (How many of you are now humming Pink Floyd in your heads?) It took me the best part of a day to get that brick out – it was at the top of a double brick foundation and that row had the bricks laid crosswise, so I had to chisel and drill out an awful lot of mortar before that &^%$* would dislodge!

But the scariest moment came switching on the “up-pump” unit. I put it off as long as possible. I knew that the tank had to fill to a certain level before the float would actuate the pump and I had no idea how long that would take.

Wendy is not a hesitater. “When are we going to start using the toilet?” “Is it ready yet? Oh, then when?”

Finally she figured out I was just plain scared, so she did the sympathetic thing a wife does in these circumstances: invited a group of friends over for the ceremonial first flush. “This way, dear, if it’s wrong, you’ll have a support group.”

DSCN0331My wife is a lovely woman….. I keep reminding myself of that.

So there we stood, the moment of truth at hand and me surrounded by well-wishers–or perhaps, in this case, pump-wishers–and me reaching my hand to the handle… no more procrastination, no more excuses, no more stays of execution…

It flushed. It made that sucking sound and the water went down in an elegant swirl, and everyone applauded. Then they went upstairs to have Apple Pie in the cafe.

Wendy kissed me. “We all had confidence in you, dear.”
I stayed behind to spend a moment alone with my toilet. After all, we’ve been together through thick and thin.
DSCN0333

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December 18, 2013 · 5:16 pm

One for all, and all for – – –

Jack guest posts (late – and briefly)

Poor Kelley, our master chef and proprietor of ‘The Second Story Cafe’, which resides upstairs in our bookstore, went down with the galloping cruds today. She managed to struggle through lunchtime, then we sent her home to bed with a stern warning to not show face until we open on Tuesday.
So we will be the resident cooks tomorrow – – –
– – – But, wait, tomorrow we inaugurate our series of musicals dinners, with Christian Dimick and Witold Wolny providing classical guitar music and the cafe serving Italian food starting at 6.00 pm. Yikes!! But then there’s breakfast from 8.30 am and lunch from 11.00 am – Heavens, jings and help ma boab!!! We’ve been dining on Kelley’s delectable offerings every morning and lunchtime since she started, without a care in the world as to how the food was produced, so now we need to remember how to do this stuff – pronto!
Tonight (after we raided the grocery store) Wendy prepared quiches and lasagna, while I set up the coffee and primed myself to produce a risotto tomorrow afternoon (not to mention bacon and eggs in the morning). Wendy’s also working on something called a “blueberry french toast casserole.”

Ho boy.
We’ve had a fair bit of unexpected emergencies this week involving a bleeding dog and a sick goat. These meant Kelley and her acolytes minded the bookstore as well as the cafe, so this is all just a fair exchange of labor IMHO.
Now – where is the rice? and the olive oil? and the – – – – –
Y’all come – if you dare.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Uncategorized