Tag Archives: second-hand books


Our shopsitter Emily guest blogs on her shelving experiences

EmilyI like to organize. So in a bookstore where there’s always books coming in and out, daily, I feel these urges to put all the shelves in perfect order – alphabetical, by genre, all in a line, etc. Which has led me to stand in front of the shelves for a few days in a row now, head slightly tilted, sometimes just staring, sometimes repeating the alphabet out loud to myself, looking like a weirdo, trying to figure out what all these words on the spine mean and each bound object relates to each other.

I’ve discovered who Grace Livingston Hill is and that “inspirational romance” is quite popular (I’m going to have to try one, it sounds quite nice). I’ve seen parenting books that start with dealing with your own mommy issues and work through just about every month of the next twenty years of your life. There’s more gender in books than I’d ever realized before – clearly, some books are ladies’ books and some books are gents’ books. I’ve spent most of my time so far among the fiction books, and I’m totally impressed by the number of stories there are to tell in the world.

But one of the coolest parts has been realizing that all (or at least most) of these used books have come from someone else’s home, where they were sitting on someone else’s bookshelves or nightstand or closet floor. They probably all have a story to tell about the home they used to live in and how they got that slightly crooked spine. In my time here, the books on these shelves have already witnessed dozens of friendly faces, new and familiar, a rowdy game night, four cats who got adopted, and a strange lady who keeps staring at them, planning a master plan about how best to move them shelf to shelf to shelf just so they can get adopted, too. If only books could speak, right?


Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

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

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!


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!

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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

March of the Scissors

scissorsAs bookshop owners, Jack and I have noticed a phenomenon over the years that other managers say is common to their shop as well. Even some domestic households report it.

The March of the Scissors.

We cannot keep a pair of those sodding things around for love nor money. In the blue basket near our cashbox, we try to have at least one pair among the pencils and sales receipt books. Yet every couple of days, one of us calls out, “Honey have you seen the–?”

Jack says, at night while we sleep, the scissors creep from the handy storage spaces where we stash them, and meet at a central location, where they hide, a nest of blades and handles, until we open a door, lift a blanket, and viola! Like a mouse’s nest, there are the scissors–usually less one pair.

They get redistributed – the kitchen drawer, the blue basket, my yarn corner, the tin under the stairs: we like to have them handy for the many jobs that arise.

You may be wondering, of what need are scissors in a bookstore? Becalm yourself; we are not cutting up Patricia Cornwells. Yet. We use them to open boxes, cut off credit slips for customers, get goop off hardbacks. (Don’t try that last one at home; we’re professionals.)

In a fit of manly rage that he couldn’t find any when he needed them, the Master of the House (Jack) bought seven pairs of solid steel scissors in one go, and double-distributed the sneaky implements to all our hiding spots.

Three weeks later, he stormed through the house, screaming, “Not a single pairrrrrrr!”

You haven’t lived until you’ve watched a Scotsman rant about “S-iz-orrrrrrrrrs.” That adorable rolled r AND a glottal stop…. be still my heart.

We found them–six pair, anyway–under the sink this time, in a shameless tangled conflagration of open blades. The least they could do is make safety scissor babies.

The scissors are back in their hiding place, minus the one that got away. We can only assume that escaped scissors join the socks that found the wormhole in the back of the dryer, and are whooping it up out there somewhere in the Netherworld. An odd combination, to be sure, but then every relationship needs a softie and a sharp one, doesn’t it?

We hope they will be very happy together.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, shopsitting, VA, writing

Bargain Basements, Backlists and All

Our bookstore now has a bargain basement. Considering that we’re a second-hand bookshop in the first place (heh heh) it’s pretty cheap.  From now on, the books on the floor under any bookshelf are $1.

I was talking with another bookstore owner, Ann at Over the Moon, in Crozet, VA, about the difference between a second-hand and new books shop. We agreed that for a new shop, books get a brief period of handselling, a window of advertising opportunity via publishers and publicists, and then, if they haven’t done their duty, syanara. Maybe a year, maybe two. In a second-hand book store, people come looking for things they liked twenty years ago, titles they want to own in hardback, or a cheap, low-investment airplane read.

Completely different approach. “Backlist” becomes “bargain classic.” It’s one of the things Jack and I love about running a read-it-again (or get a chance to read it for the first time, two generations later): offering people access.

It comes back to that flash-in-the-pan bright star versus the long, steady light of those who, if not quite classics, are telling human stories that are timeless enough to endure. Diane Johnson. E.L. Doctorow. Delderfield. Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey, Larry McMurtry. James Michener.

Oh lordy, the Micheners. I still remember my dad’s comment: “Any novel that starts with the volcano that formed the island on which the main characters conduct their business might be called thorough.”

Although American/British/Irish literature classes in future centuries may or may not study every single one of these lads and ladettes, they are part of the eternal library of humanity. And people may not make movies or write theses about them all, but they’ve influenced the way people think, commented on the way society runs.

Old books never die; they just get tape on their covers and dust on their spines, and they go into the bargain basement. Where smart people find them, and their ideas and stories live again, and again, and again, interesting and enduring.


Filed under book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

We Have an Anchor

It’s been a hard week here at the bookstore, and that’s a fact. Jack is getting on with the basement renovations, despite crazy weather (from 4 to 62 degrees Farenheit in two days?!) crooked walls, and mucked-up windows. I’m working my way through piles of donations from people who cleaned closets in January, and greeting new customers and new friends the book has brought us. Business is thriving.

But some outside pressures we need not go into have got me rattling just like the basement windows in these bitter winds: confused, pressured, cold and battered. Rattled.

Books are excellent therapy in such times. Walk the shelves, straightening and arranging; set the spines upright; run your fingers over familiar titles and remember when you read them. Breathe in the dust and ideas that float on the sunbeams of a second-hand books shop. Sit at the table and drink a cup of tea, surrounded by the weightiness of all those books holding the collected weight of human learning.

There’s a hymn that says, “We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.” 

I’m a person who believes in Jesus as He presented Himself, and who turns a suspicious eye toward many of those offering to interpret Him for the rest of us. Perhaps I have two anchors: the eternal one I neither take for granted nor feel compelled to force on others; and the “take time to think” drag force of 38,000 books, just sitting there, reasonable and silent, in a world full of people screaming for attention. Pull one down at random, read a page at random. Just breathe. Drink tea. Relax. Read about–learn from–someone else’s experiences.

Dust, ideas, silence. Peace in a buffer zone. Our bookshop is a space whose walls are lined floor to ceiling by books. Inside them are ideas enough to start a hundred revolutions, yet oddly enough I feel like they shelter me. They remind me that this too shall pass, that there is very little new under the sun, that how I feel now has been felt by hundreds of real people and fictional characters in the past, and will be in the future. It’s okay to be rattled; I’m in good company in these high winds.

We have, here in our little bookstore, an anchor and an Anchor. And that’s enough.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA