Tag Archives: dream jobs

Welcome Tootie, Shopsitter III

Many of you remember Andrew. And Mark and Sally. Now it is time to welcome Tootie to the family.

DSCN0154At Southern Festival of the Book, Tootie came up after my author talk and said, “You mean you let people live and work in your bookstore? Where do I sign?!”

And that’s how we met Tootie. She seemed an energetic bubbly sort, but we didn’t need a shopsitter at the time, so we lamented the lateness of our meeting, and went our ways.

But a few months later, when I hopped over to Winston-Salem for an event with BOOKMARKS (a very active group of literary women over there) who should be attending but Tootie and a friend. And by then we knew that we needed to be in Wisconsin for a week in April, for the Fox Cities Book Festival, and a couple of day trip events later that month.

“Are you still–” I started, and Tootie’s eyes lit.

“You need a shopsitter, don’t you!” she cried.

So that’s how Tootie drove over from Southern Pines, NC last week and spent two days tucked up in the guest room learning the ropes. She and our indoor/outdoor cat Beulah have taken a particular shine to one another, so Beulah has decided to come back inside and help Tootie with the shelving.

Tootie, who recently retired from a career in sales, quickly figured out the shop’s daily regime, and was “pure dead brilliant” with customers, as Jack said. She also got the full whack in one day. Our bookstore rejoices in a few “oddballs,” what we like to call colorful local characters. One young man is schizophrenic and obsessed with “getting a PhD in guitar.” Tootie, hearing him talking to Jack, told him what a great career choice he had made. “Music makes the world turn!” I’d never seen this guy look so happy.

For her part, Tootie brought along a copy of Little Bookstore and started pointing out landmarks to herself. Very META. She also identified the staff cats correctly based on the book, calling them by name on first meeting–which impressed Valkyttie, and that’s not easy to do.

I read the first (but only the first) of the Left Behind books on the flight between London and Chicago that opened the action. That kinda gave me the willies, but Tootie says she likes “being inside the Little Bookstore‘s covers, literally.”

Tootie will be working the shop from today through next Saturday, so if you’re in the area, come over and say hello. She’s got a great sense of humor. And Valkyttie likes her. You can’t say that about just anyone.


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

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!”

Leave a comment

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

A Bookstore in Wisconsin/Minnesota Needs Our Help

We all know that independent bookstores are riding a dangerous wave in today’s economy: some dance; some drown.

There’s a nice bookshop in Hudson, Wisconsin, called Chapter2Books. It’s at 422 Second Street, on the bank of the St. Croix River, at the border with Minnesota. And all 842 square feet of it is struggling.

Sue and her husband Brian set up shop in Summer 2011, after Brian lost his job managing a credit union because of a merger with a larger firm. They launched their little bookstore with high hopes and higher rents.

chapter 2 booksAnd now, as Sue puts it, the economy is kicking their butts.

Sue understands that people think Amazon is cheaper, but, as she says,”Cheap is not cheap. Cheap books=no indies=no story hour for the babies at the shop=no support for local authors=no writing groups=no forum for national authors to come to town=no special, hand picked books, just bestsellers you can find anywhere=noone to personally make a connection with your reluctant reader=no indie store participating in chamber and town events, etc. etc. etc. Is that download on Amazon really worth it?”

“I’ve realized in the last few weeks that I have become a curator of books,” Sue said. “It actually is an important function to help people, whether they’re looking for a gift book or expanding what their kids are reading.”

For his part, Brian opened the doors to local authors: self published, house published, prospective writers and all. Not only did they set up a writing group, but when self-published authors came to do book talks, if the turnout was low, Brian slipped a $20 here or there from his own dwindling wallet and went to merchants up and down the street, suggesting they stop in, listen a few minutes, and buy the book.

That kind of human touch doesn’t come from cyber-deals.

sue and brian“This bookshop was our prayer to the universe,” Sue said. “Brian spent 30 years in banking, and then we got to do this. We advise customers and listen to their needs and all the things you talk about in your book, Wendy, and yet, now….I’m mad, I’m sad, I’m frustrated, I’m devastated, I’m heartbroken, I’m terrified.”

Can we afford to lose another small town store–a BOOKstore–folks? Do we really want another one to bite the dust?

Perhaps we can help. Could you repost this information – whole blog, condensed piece, whatever you can. Here are some basics: The shop is open from 10-5. Mon-Wed and Saturday, 10-7 Thurs and Fri, and 11-5 Sundays. Their website is http://www.chapter2books.com/. Thanks for doing what you can. Sue and Brian support their community. They could use some nice email (Brian@chapter2books.com; Sue@chapter2books.com), Tweets @chapter2books, and LIKEs on Facebook to boost morale–and spread the word that they’re standing, ready, to serve booklovers along the St. Croix River. Thanks!


Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Really Fun Parts of Bookslinging

Running a used books store hovers around #12 on the list of second careers retirees dream about, which begs the question: what is it in this “doomed” (according to the media; we say “Hmmph”) profession that appeals so? Jack and I sat down to make a list of the top 5 perks:

1) The customers. You’ll never meet sweeter, kookier, nicer people than those who frequent bookshops. I am tempted to add, particularly in a small town, but maybe it’s universal. Our customers tell us stories, bring us brownies, ask us to look at their rashes, suggest colors to paint our walls… They’re like a big extended family of near-and-far cousins.

2) Sorting the trade-ins. This is kind of bittersweet; we see SOOOOO many Pattersons, Cornwalls, Grishams. A grey twilight is threatening to eclipse our paranormal romance section. And yet, amidst the flood of oh-so-popular stuff, boxes come in with unique offerings; you lift the Reader’s Digest How To Manuals and find a slew of unknown titles–and your heartbeat accelerates.

I’d never heard of Prayers and Lies, but  liked this debut novel about dysfunctional families. It was just lying there in a stack of Nicholas Sparks, humming a little tune to itself, waiting patiently to be discovered. That happens often enough to keep us excited.

3) Quips. Customers say the darndest things! They toss off comments that completely startle you with their wisdom. The other day as I bemoaned the economy an elderly customer shrugged. “I ain’t eatin’ cat food and the sun is shinin’,” he said. “Good’nuff fer today.”

4) Peacefulness. We don’t know why. Our personal lives are NOT peaceful at this time (though they are fun). And this peace thing is true of other bookshops we have visited. Books lining walls make a noise buffer? We don’t know, but bookshops are magically calm, and we can tell you that it’s not our influence as owners making it so. It just is.

5) The juxtaposition of predictability and unpredictability. This morning Jack said, “It’s Friday. Mr. L will be on the porch at 9:30, waiting for his Steinbecks.” Mr. L discovered Steinbeck late in life (his seventies) and has since been buying one per week. I asked Jack if finances held Mr. L back from getting a slew at once, and Jack doubled over with laughter. “I actually offered a deal on all we had, and Mr. L said, ‘Nah. What if I die ‘afore next weekend? Nobody else in my house’d read ’em.'”

Nancy comes Thursdays and gets Dragonlance books. Wendy (a customer, not me) buys True Crime every two weeks, on payday. Pitted against this, on any given day someone could waltz in and demand “everything you’ve got on Hawaii,” or take out his fiddle and play a tune–as a young lad did last week for Jack, without preamble. When he’d finished (to a round of applause from other shoppers) he asked, “You wanna stock my CD?” (Jack did.)

Being a bookslinger won’t make you rich, but it will make you happy.

(Don’t forget to scroll back to Aug. 14th and enter Caption Contest V. It’s fun, and you could win a free book!)


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