Tag Archives: slow life movement

Minding the Books

Jack blogs on the business matters of bookstore life

Since opening our bookstore we’ve kept a close eye on our sales from month to month. This was initially part of the process of calculating sales tax, but as we moved from year one to year two, we realized that comparing the same month in different years couldn’t hurt our planning. (We were business virgins when we started, but we have learned quickly.)

That, in turn, allowed us to see how we were building our customer base in succeeding years – until we hit a plateau around year three or four. We were comfortably aware that we had probably reached saturation point, in terms of our region’s ‘willing to drive to the bookstore’ market, but then things changed again after Little Bookstore was published.

To begin with its effect coincided with our usual pre- and post- Christmas peak (believe it or not January can be a good month for bookstores, as people spend their Christmas gift money). The Christmas Factor made it hard to separate the two. Traditionally, the period from late January through late March has always been very low. In fact we have come to expect a goodly handful of ‘cashless wonder’ days during this period, when people either use accumulated credit or bring boxes of books in for credit. We brace ourselves and eat more mac and cheese.

But, here we are heading for the end of February 2013 and we’ve continued to be almost as busy as during that seasonal Christmas peak. The explanation seems to be that the folk who have read Little Bookstore are intrigued enough to want to experience both the bookstore and Big Stone for real.

It’s becoming pretty easy to tell these nice folk as soon as they come into the shop, too! They have an expectant look about them; they smile at our cats and call them by name. They seek out ‘the rejection letter,’ and they just kind of hover in a satisfied way.

Once we twigged what was going on we would ask where they came from and discovered that our geographical footprint had grown. Quite a bit.

Funny though this may seem, as excited as I’d been about the book coming out, it had never occurred to me it would entice people to seek out our shop. But I’m certainly glad they are. Without exception, they’ve been nice people, pleasant visitors, appreciative of the town without a whiff of “how… quaint” to them. They’re good conversationalists. AND they’re buying books.

What more could a bookslinger ask for?


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, publishing, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Little Brown Jug

The weekly guest blog from Jack

Wendy has blogged more than once about the particularities of living above the bookstore and the overlap between our personal lives and our bookstore lives. To be honest we don’t see a division – the bookstore is a big part of our lives and it’s hard to imagine living any other way now.

Having someone walk in when we’ve forgotten to lock the door and we’re eating breakfast or dinner at the bookstore table is only a problem when we have to grab the dogs before they make the dash for freedom – or we’re not exactly dressed for the occasion.

But there’s coziness about all this that we haven’t really touched on before and it struck me anew just a few mornings ago in the form of our ‘the little brown jug’, or to be precise our ‘little brown sugar bowl’.


Most mornings I wander sleepily down to the shop accompanied by dogs and cats to our little downstairs semi-kitchen to set up the coffee, switch on the lap-top and examine the breakfast options (for humans and animals). On this particular morning my eyes focused on the sugar bowl in all its familiarity and I was suddenly struck by the power of objects to give us context and comfort.

That humble brown bowl talks to me without words. It says “how did you sleep?” and “what do you have planned today?” and “we all live here together and that’s most satisfying.”

Ah – satisfying! That’s the word I was looking for. It is satisfying to wake up surrounded by a movable feast downstairs with some immovable objects in it. The little brown sugar bowl (and some of its friends) give us that.


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

Robo-Owen’s Guide to Reverse Culture Shock

We are pleased to present here the first of Andrew-the-shopsitter’s guest blogs post-shopsitting. He promises to send them now and again, and we look forward to them. For those unfamiliar with the term, Robo-Owen is a wee anamatronic kitten presented to Ali and Andrew on their departure.

It’s now been a few weeks since I left Big Stone Gap. And while I didn’t feel as if I had experienced any culture shock following my arrival in September, I must admit some reverse effects upon setting foot in New York again. My ability to maneuver in crowds is only now returning, after a number of shoulder bashes on busy avenues. I am very wary of cops, and have somehow convinced myself that there are a number of New York street laws I’ve somehow forgotten and am unconsciously violating. My ability to pick good pizza slices has atrophied.

There have also been positive side effects. I find myself itching to replicate some of the regular activities from the bookstore (although I don’t see many of my friends having the requisite skills for Needlework Night). I seek out company in ways I didn’t before… in small town ways. Instead of waiting to catch up at a party I’ve dropped in on friends to chat and drink tea. I cooked some recipes I learned at my family’s Thanksgiving. And I find myself back in the habit of reading.

There is a suspicious lack of animals in my apartment. Sure, there are the mice, roaches, and centipedes, but they’re not good company like cats and dogs. Speaking of, I introduced my brother’s cat Baxter to Robo-Owen. They seem to get along, but judge for yourself.


Robo-Owen is a poor doppelgänger for the possibly-evil, possibly-dumb real thing. For one, he never interferes with my cooking. But now my food-defense instincts are so strong and ingrained I’d be ready if he somehow reprogrammed himself for human food. He also doesn’t have claws, so my skin is no longer a tapestry of angry red lines. This makes him a disappointing sparring partner. Sometimes I’ll try and goad him, but unlike the real thing Robo-Owen is unflappable. Robo-Owen never falls asleep on my stomach or leaps into my arms. All in all he’s good company, and even has a mechanical purr, but he’s no replacement for the real deal Owen Meany.

Just like Robo-Owen is no real cat, I’m no longer a real shopsitter. But old habits die hard, so I may just start loitering around my local used bookstore until they kick me out for aggressive re-alphabetizing. Whatever my future away from Big Stone Gap may hold, I know that book and bookstore culture will remain a part of my life. So I look forward to sharing more of my own experiences with the book life in the near future.

Happy Holidays to all of you and to all of my friends in Big Stone Gap!

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