Tag Archives: shop local

In which Bookseller Wendy revitalizes her inner Chair Nerd

asheville river artAsheville, NC has been our go-to getaway since moving to Virginia nine years ago. It’s the Paris of the South, Bohemia of the Bible Belt, and home to a lot of really good artisans.

As often as we’d been there, we’d never managed to explore wider than downtown, so this time we snagged a clean, cheap hotel at its edge (DOWNTOWN INN, highly recommended, gorgeous pool!) and hopped a asheville pooltourist trolley. It is a good deal, taking you to things you’d not realize were unique without their stories– like the amazing Asheville McDonald’s, sixth wonder of the Fast Food World; or the site where Zelda Fitzgerald met her untimely, unnecessary end. As an added bonus, the woman staffing the site whence we hopped on was just lovely, teaching herself to knit, had an anthropology background, a long-time resident of Asheville talking about its history and future.

We enjoyed the trolley, particularly our driver Storyteller Michael (who loved being Storyteller Michael) but it was the River Arts District we really wanted to explore, our first day. Off we hopped, and spent the next three hours running around conversing with artists and gallery owners. The woman at the glass shop talked about downtown Asheville’s gentrification pushing out the locals. The lady who made animal portraits out of fabric pieces had escaped the mall attack in Mogadishu. A guy doing binary code paintings discussed asheville doorstopraising artistic children in a city that ate money.

It’s one of the many cool things about Asheville. They’re not just raking in tourists; almost everyone is quite happy to converse with you about what they’re doing, and why, and how long they’ve been doing it. Artists, wait staff (who are often artists, too) hotel clerks. People have not lost the art of conversation here, at least not in the off-season.

Even at lunch, when we sat down outside at White Duck Taco, conversations kept rolling. As we had the only table with spare seating, a man asked if he and his son could join us. Turns out his son was at university in Edinburgh, so we had a grand old time.

Then we walked – and let me tell you, if you really want to explore all the River Asheville chain manArts District, you need to bring a car – down to another section, and randomly up to a building that sported the sign, “Chair caning to the left.”


For those who don’t know, I am a chair caning nerd. I LOVE caning chairs – don’t get to do it that often, what with bookstore operations and writing and cat rescue and the college, but it has some serious zen. And scope for artistry. And when you’re done, a lasting effect on the comfort and vibe of your home.

So around the corner I raced, and entered heaven. A whole loft dedicated to the artistic building, repair, and enhancement of chairs. Chairs with paper rush, chairs with sea grass, chairs with Shaker tape, oak splints…. *blissful sigh.*

asheville chair display(Sorry, nerd moment.)

And the best part? Well, two best parts. The woman who owns the place said hi, I asked her a question about a caning pattern, and her eyes lit.

“You cane?” she asked, and I was off, talking about the garage Jack enclosed for me, the rockers, the checkerboard seats, the 3-5 chevrons…..

You could see it on her forehead: I got a live one here!asheville chairs

She left the work she’d been doing and showed me a display of all the types of seat pattern and common materials used in America. We talked about which designs, though beautiful, would be less functional than the ol’ stalwarts, discussed lace weaves versus sturdy rush doubles. We talked the kind of talk that would make non-nerds’ eyes roll back into their heads. Some time later – was it ten minutes or thirty – I realized Jack had disappeared.

Brandy, the owner, showed me the antique chairs, the unusual caning someone had done to a ladder back rocker, and a few other things that set my heart racing, before we shook hands and said goodbye. She’s going to try and make a trip to the bookstore sometime next year, and if she does we’ll try to set up a special event, something along the lines of “Intro to chair caning for normal people.”

Not nerds like us. Brandy gifted me a “chair nerd” sticker which is now proudly displayed on the bookshop door. And that was how I found a little piece of heaven in Asheville.

Click to visit Silver River Chairs and meet Dave, Brandy, and Rosie the chair dog.

Silver-River-Staff-thumbnail-Brandy(And if you want to get a trolley next time you’re Asheville way, it’s www.GrayLineAsheville.com)


Filed under Big Stone Gap, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA

We Won the Inaugural International Cat Day at Bookstores Award!

In case anyone missed it, Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness did his column on us this past week. Here’s the article and the link. And we LOVED seeing Valkyttie’s picture going national. :]


Robert Gray: International Cat Day Bookstore Prize

In case you missed it, last Saturday was International Cat Day, during which “felines take over the internet (even more than usual),” the Telegraph noted. As news-gathering organizations go, our bookstore cat coverage is pretty comprehensive, so we can testify to the clickbait potential inherent in any hyperlink that includes the words “Bookstore Cats.”

See, you just went there instinctively, didn’t you? Welcome back.

Today, I have the honor of both inventing and announcing the inaugural International Cat Day Bookstore Prize winner. From a long list of worthy contenders, the judges (well, me) unanimously selected Tales of the Lonesome Pine, Big Stone Gap, Va., which is currently hosting a Bookstore Cat Adoption Reunion on Facebook to celebrate all of the “forever homes” they have found for their temporary bookstore kitty interns.

“We started in June 2009, and in May of this year we adopted out our 200th cat (named Reepicheep),” said co-owner Wendy Welch. “The bookstore is a great place to get adoptions going because it acts kind of like a pet store window; people interact with the cats, pick them up and carry them, have fun with them. The tactile experience of being around them has increased adoptions, I think. We still have ‘impulse’ adoptions, although we are careful of those. More often now that we’re established we have people contact us after viewing our Facebook photos.”

Tales of the Lonesome Pine has three cat adoption rules, Welch noted: “Let the cat choose the person–they never miss; give the cats timely literary names (we named a group Harper Lee, Scout, and Boo Radley when Go Set a Watchman came out); and write about their purrsonailities on Facebook. After a cat’s been with us long enough to know them, I usually do a ‘if this cat were a woman/girl’ post and for some reason everybody loves these. I also write a lot of ‘cat voice‘ blogs as if the cat were writing it about his experiences at the shop. These get lots of hits and comments.”

Visitors to the bookstore occasionally donate money (“a kitty for the kitties,” as her husband, Jack, describes it), but Welch said, “We don’t have a jar out and in our troubled economic region I would flat not ask people for money; there are people struggling to feed their families here, literally. We’re not interested in taking their cash. In fact, that’s who we rescue for. Some families would love a pet, be good to it, have enough to feed and care for it, if they didn’t have to pay for spaying and neutering. I have friends who can sometimes be called on to ‘sponsor’ a family if they need it, and we let those ‘kitty’ donations add up to spays as well.”

She also crochets for the cause: “It’s a hobby I’ve had since childhood; I’m fast, and if I do say so myself, I’m really good at it. I can make all sorts of fun stuff; in 2013 it was the Spay & Neuter Afghan–a free online pattern called ‘Rows of Cats.’ I put it online with a note that said ‘This is what you get if you don’t spay and neuter: rows and rows of cats.’ And those things sold like hotcakes; I sold them for the price of a neuter. In 2014 I must have sold 400 of these cool little trivets shaped like penguins and chicks and roosters. This year it is animal scarves and hoodies, and mermaid tail lap blankets. People buy these a lot, and they donate yarn so I can sell them at prices everyone can afford, and still make money for the kitties’ kitty.”

Since the 2012 publication of her book The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Welch said many readers “from outside the area have been quick to assist us, or to assist their local cat shelters in our honor. That’s very cool. The farthest away we have adopted cats is Kansas and Massachusetts. Someone agreed to meet the adopter halfway, and off our babies went to life in the big city–or the American plains. Whichever. We adopted a girl recently to a family in Arlington who came to see the shop because they’d read my book and wanted to see it for themselves. And they came with the idea of getting a cat in mind. We love it when this happens.”

Tales of The Lonesome Pine’s official bookshop cat philosophy is summed up nicely in her book: “The whole establishment catered in design and policy to every whim of the two permanent staff cats and the myriad fosters who have found forever homes via the bookstore.”

Sometimes people ask why they do all this. “We do it for the same reason we run a bookstore: because it’s fun, because it’s important, and because it’s compassionate,” Welch observed. “Animals can’t speak for themselves, tell their own story. They need advocates, and when they get them, they reciprocate by being way more fun to watch than Netflix–plus more engaging.” —Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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

Parkville Bookworm in Maryland needs our Help!


This is a guest blog from my friend Melissa, a fellow bookstore owner. Please, if you live near Baltimore, share this information. Thanks!
melissaMy name is Melissa Eisenmeier. I own the Parkville Bookworm, a used bookstore in the Baltimore, Maryland, suburbs. It’s the perfect job for me: I have to read books to recommend them to customers. I get to talk to and meet all kinds of interesting customers, from Kathryne, a fellow history junkie and cat lover; Alicia, who plays guitar, likes science, and Stan Lee, my staff cat; the lady who comes in with her husband once a week and recently told me her cat is Stan Lee’s girlfriend; and Karen, my outsource buyer(Jack and Wendy would likely call her the no-cash crew). I enjoy showcasing all the cool books out there. My customers seem to like the store, too; I often get told this.stan


Things were going fairly well in June, but I still wasn’t quite making enough to pay the bills. The past two months have kicked my butt, however. July and August, as I expected and tried to plan for, have been slower than I would like, and I quickly ran through what money I had set aside. I tried some different stuff to draw people in, from art shows to book clubs(the art show with Jenny O’Grady went over really well, and she was a lot of fun to have in the store).


When the credit union told my business partner she was at her limit, I knew I had to act fast. I didn’t want to close the bookstore, and we couldn’t borrow any more money. I decided to turn to my customers. I did the math, and figured out if I could get all 325 people or so who liked the bookstore’s Facebook page as of Thursday afternoon to come in and spend $10 by the end of the month, then I could make the rent, pay my assistant Lisa, and pay all my other bills.


stan leeThe Parkville Bookworm is located at 2300 E. Joppa Road in Parkville, MD. The store is located across from Taco Bell, and the entrance faces Ed an Jim’s Auto Body Shop. You can also find us on Facebook.

And of course I encourage you to support your local bookstore if you’re lucky enough to have one. Should you not, you can message the bookstore’s Facebook page with a short list of books, or send an Excel sheet or Google spreadsheet list to me at parkvillebookworm@gmail.com. If it’s in stock, I can mail it after we do a credit card transaction..



Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Caretaking the Eternal Library of Humanity

My friend Anita out in Kansas is looking to relocate the bookshop she manages, Al’s Old and New Books. She has discovered that some people think used bookshops are…. downmarket, while others prefer the term “passe.”


Jack and I have often commented that we oversee a library of ever-changing leftovers, some of which have mass appeal, some of which have esoteric appeal. But the reason we like what we do is that we’re not full of the latest bestseller, face outward on the aisle so mega-shoppers walking to the mall can be enticed by “Oh, I heard about that on Twitter!” impulse moments.

We have the long-term, hardcore stuff. The 1970s classics on Marxism, the Leif Ungers and Robert Fords and Lisa Changes. People who write well but disappeared into the well of marketing madness with nary a splash. My agent Pamela and I were talking one day about the “nebulous” position of used book stores in the publishing world. “After all, NYC doesn’t make any money from them,” she said, but then added, “but we all benefit from them. You are the caretakers of humanity’s eternal library, aren’t you? Like a benevolent dragon trying to get the gold horde out there instead of sit on it.”

Used book stores are the place where the sounds of silence outweigh the shrieks of hawkers telling you why THIS BOOK is the Next Great Thing. You can look for yourself–and thus see for yourself–in a used books shop. In a society that equates old with “has been” rather than “wisdom,” used books shops are a place for those who know when not to swallow a line.

We love running one. And this week, we’ve sold an amazing number of  what from a mainstream point of view would be “nobody’s gonna buy these” books. We sold about 20 volumes of philosophy. No, really, PHILOSOPHY! Mostly 1960s textbooks and treatises.

We sold a great wheen of French novels, both translated and in the original language. And we sold a set of plays written in the 1700s. A cheap, simple copy for someone who wanted to look at their structure. $3.20 and out the door she went.

This is part of why used book shops matter. It’s nice to have big well-lit shops with the bestsellers in them at full retail, but it’s also nice to have a dowdy little community center where you can think for yourself. That, and the $1.50 cuppa and the comfy couches and the cat option and the fact that if you come in and say, “Oh crap, I left my wallet at home,” we will say, “Fine, we’ll write it in the ledger and you can pay us next time you come.” And the customer, who only gets down from Ohio four times a year, stares at you like you’ve gone mad, and comes back two months later and pays up.

This is why it’s important for us to be here. Downmarket, my arse. Up the caretakers of the eternal library of humanity!


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, writing

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’.


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.


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

Observations on the Boston Globe’s article about Bookstore Ownership

Jack’s weekly guest blog

“Oh, some poo’er the giftie gi’e us, tae see oorsels as ithers see us” (Robert Burns)

(Oh that some power the gift would give us, to see ourselves as others see us.)

Over the last few months it’s been interesting to read the number of articles about the resurgence of independent bookstores around the country and see how Wendy’s book and our experiences have fit in. And to sit back and watch, with small “we told you so smirks” playing on our faces, how many people who thought just three years ago that bookstores were “dinosaurs” are now eating crow served up by brontosaurus waiters and waitresses.

Yes, we might be gloating slightly on that point….

On Sunday past the Boston Globe ran an article on wealthy retirees looking to ‘fulfill their dream’ of running a bookstore someday by buying ready-made shops that had gone ‘belly up’. (I’m sure many of them worked with their communities to support the previous owners, like folks elsewhere.)

It wasn’t clear from the article whether these were new-book stores or used-book stores and that has a certain bearing on their success potential, as does whether they are in buildings with mortgages or rents. As Wendy said in her talk for Books TV, “my advice to people wanting to open a bookshop starts with: don’t pay rent for a separate building. And you need to like people as much as you like books.”

That’s another key element, liking people, because you need to invite them in for community events –not just author signings, but actual hub activity. Invite all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons tied to books. Give them needlework nights, game nights, astronomy nights, illustrator nights, nights of fun and flaming passion – well, fun, anyway.

While we were in Nashville at Southern Festival of the Book we chatted with Ethan Watters, author of Urban Tribes. He  is from San Francisco and was telling us about someone who had bought an existing bookstore out there planning to do just that–make it into a ‘community hub’ and thus keep it alive and thriving. This is an approach dear to our heart and also, we believe, one the great ‘unique selling points’ (MBA-speak; excuse me) of bookstores. It’s why we matter. It’s why we’re thriving.

The Globe article might focus a bit more on wealthy people in upmarket areas than on the small town shops Wendy and I saw in our 2011 Booking Down the Road Trip, or have heard from in the community of independent bookstore owners banding together since then, but our observations remain the same: those prepared to work hard and find fun in that will love running a bookstore. And they will understand one our favorite sayings: there are those who are rich, and then there are those who have a lot of money.

I do wonder, with a sympathetic grin, if those buying bookstores know what they’re letting themselves in for. We didn’t, when we started. Which leads me to another Scots saying: “Weel ye ken noo!”

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, shopsitting, writing

Bouncing off the Bars

People can get priggish or preachy about the whole “shop local” thing, but it really does have a positive impact. I bought a hank of homespun wool from a friend for $25; she spent $15 at the local craft shop and $10 buying books from me. I had supper at the buffet across the street; the craft shop owner bought cupcakes from the local bakery for her son’s birthday. “Follow the money” as ’round and ’round and ’round it goes, keeping us in business for ourselves–and each other.

What if I’d gone to Walmart instead and bought $25 worth of Red Heart–which would have been a whole 28 oz. more of crocheting material?

More yarn, less community. Thank you, but I’ll make my friend a scarf instead of an afghan for Christmas.

Jack and I shop local, but we once made a pact that we would not buy anything at Walmart unless we couldn’t find it after a week of trying elsewhere, and gave up after about 10 days. We needed a picture frame, and nobody sells them anymore, except specialty ones in Hallmark (a locally owned franchise).

So we’re not sticklers. Jack once read me excerpts from a book called The McDonaldization of Society, in which the author divided people into iron cagers, rubber cagers, and free-rangers. Iron cagers shopped for the cheapest or most convenient thing, without thinking of its impact or consequences except to them (money and time) in the short term. Rubber cagers tried to buy things from local providers before chain stores (local franchises are not chain stores in my mind, btw) and generally made purchases based on their carbon footprint and what they considered fair treatment of those who produced the item.

The sad point of the book was that free rangers–those who swear they will DO NO HARM, grow their own food, spin their own cloth, etc–cannot be completely free if they live in a developed nation. It’s impossible. (And if they live in a developing one, that’s just called “daily living.”)

Still, as that author pointed out, rubber caging is better than nothing, and every little bit helps–or at least slows the crash and tumble that economic or environmental disaster historically bring. So Jack and I aspire to bounce off the bars of uninformed choices every chance we get. Boing! It’s kinda fun, actually, to plot one’s way out of the path of least resistance, and surprisingly inexpensive. Bet you know a local crafter who doesn’t even have a shop; a little stuffed-to-the-gills “junk” store somewhere on your town’s side streets; even a service store that would do a gift certificate if you asked them.

Boing… this is kinda fun… boing….

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, VA