Tag Archives: small businesses

ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY

Jack’s guest blog this week discusses the family of booksellers, from NYC to BSG

Our second NYC visit, to meet up with Wendy’s editorial team at St Martins Press and her agent Pamela, has been great. We were a little more confident about surviving in the Big Apple this time, even able –with the assistance of ‘shop-sitter’ Andrew–to navigate our way around the subway system and cross streets without getting knocked down.

Another reason for being there was an event Jess (our lovely publicist) had organized at Word Up Books, on Thursday evening. Organizer Veronica met us at the door and immediately said how much she had been looking forward to welcoming us as she had read ‘The Little Bookstore’ with growing recognition of everything Wendy had written about pertaining to their store. “Been there, done that”!

What impressed me most about ‘Word Up’ was how it met our paradigm of what a bookstore should be – truly a community center in its neighborhood. Started a couple of years ago as what was meant to be a very temporary ‘Pop-Up’ store lasting for a week in an empty building, it was so successful that the locals demanded it stay on. First it was a month, then another couple of months and finally a permanent institution. It had to eventually move to different premises and ‘crowd-funded’ the necessary $70,000 opening costs in just a few weeks!

Run entirely by volunteers, Word Up provides a space for all sorts of activities, and always have coffee on the go as well. They keep their costs down by getting donations of used books, plus support from the publishing industry itself in the form of seconds, overstocks, and even editors slipping in a few books to handsell—a win-win for authors, publicists, and sellers alike.

We learned that a neighborhood in New York can also be a ‘small town’ just like Big Stone Gap and has the same needs. This neighborhood had a mix of Spanish speakers from all over the world, plus the usual NYC melting pot and the bookstore specializes in Spanish language reading, but also caters for those other cultures

Finally – our event felt like a real family affair as Wendy’s agent Pamela and Pamela;s assistant Michelle, editor Nichole with her assistant Laura, publicist Jessica, shop-sitter Andrew and his significant other Ali, plus Veronica, store owner Gio, and a phalanx of small business owners from the community joined shop regulars. They made us feel like celebrities, but even more fun, we got to talk books and business, and the business of books, with people who live and breathe it as we do.

Woo Hoo – –

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Afterwords Bookstore Speaks….

This might be one of the sweetest press releases ever!  Jack and I head off Tuesday to speak at Afterwords Books.

Turning Retail Stores Into Community Resources
Bookstore Owners Lead Discussion for Local Business Owners at Special Event in Edwardsville

EDWARDSVILLE, ILL. October 11, 2013 – How can locally-owned businesses stay at the top of shoppers’ minds in a world dominated by big box stores and online retailers? On October 22, 2013, two family-run bookstore owners – one from Edwardsville, Ill. and one from Big Stone Gap, Va. – will share their stories how they transformed their stores into community hubs in order to drive sales.

Like many locally-owned retailers, LuAnn Locke of Afterwords Bookstore in Edwardsville faced an uphill battle in encouraging residents to shop local. As a bookstore owner, it was even more challenging with the proliferation of e-readers in the market. On the verge of closing shop, Locke connected with Wendy Welch, owner of Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore in Virginia and author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. Through her experience and buoyed by the lessons of Welch, Locke transformed Afterwords into a community resource for book lovers and was able to stay in business.

On October 22, Welch and Locke will join together at Afterwords to lead a discussion on how local businesses can be more than retail stores – they can be gathering spots that encourage community interaction to help boost sales. Welch and Locke will share best practices, grassroots marketing efforts and in-store programs that helped their businesses survive in a competitive marketplace.

Said Locke, “Welch’s book was instrumental in our decision to keep fighting the good fight – to continue to believe in Afterwords Books and what it means to our community. She has inspired to me to make the store a place where book lovers can connect over their shared interests and boost interest in reading throughout the region.”

Small business owners and the public alike are welcome to join in the discussion, starting at 7 p.m. Refreshments will be served, and a 20 percent discount will be offered on all book club selections. Afterwords Books is located at 232 Buchanan Street in Edwardsville, Ill. For more information about Afterwords or its upcoming events, visit www.afterwordsusedbooks.com or call 618-655-0355.

About Afterwords Books: Afterwords Books is a family owned and operated bookstore in Edwardsville, Ill. Afterwords offers customers both new and used books, a trade for credit program, free children’s story times, book clubs for all ages, a monthly documentary club, educational toys, and unique gifts crafted from local artisans. As a locally-owned store dedicated to the community, Afterwords is committed to serving as a community resource and gathering place for fans of the written word. For more information, visit www.afterwordsusedbooks.com.

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The Fastest Way to Piss Off a Community Business Owner

When a first-time customer walks in, Jack and I  smile and say hi in confidence that this is the start of a beautiful relationship. We’re proud of our bookstore, and its reputation for dealing honestly with people who bring in “old” books for free evaluations. We keep the store cheerfully clean, cozy and welcoming (as opposed to fully alphabetized and sterile, Jack says) whether you’re buying, browsing, or just in for some kitten cuddling.

And yeah, we have a reputation for being cuckoo for cats. It’s a fair cop.

But every once per 300 or so encounters, instead of returning this welcoming smile, the person looks back through squinted eyes and says something like, “You charge $3 for a Western? That’s too much. I can get them at the Goodwill for $1.”

Uh, no, you can’t because our Goodwill NEVER has Westerns, as you well know as a fan of the genre. Goodwill has romances ten for a penny, but no Westerns. Or desirable science fiction.

Once someone picked up a value paperback ($1 each, 6 for $5) and sniffed. “I see you changed your pricing. These books used to be 4 for $1.” (Hmm, you’d think I’d remember that, but I don’t.) “Everybody’s in it for the money these days.”

Or even, “Tell me exactly the value of each book I traded in, because that doesn’t seem like enough credit” when we’ve just given them $20 for a box that includes 27 battered children’s books and 3 Norton anthologies we’ll be selling for a quarter each.

Ask a small business owner if she’s in it for the money, and she will pee herself laughing. Let me tell you, there are HUNDREDS of dollars to be made in used book sales!

No, mom-n-pops tend to be in business as family tradition, or to be our own bosses, or because we literally love and are happy around what we sell or do. We just want a graceful sufficiency existence off the rat race treadmill. Had we wanted to make money, we’d have gone into health insurance.

Sometimes it’s evident that customers consider statements like those above preludes to haggling, but Jack and I see them as flat disrespect for local businesses.  When haggling is done with mutual respect on both sides, it’s actually fun. It is not fun to deal with people who walk in saying they expect us to join the rest of life in ripping them off. Rather kills the kindness instinct, don’t you know.

Still, sir or madam, you have our deepest sympathies, and let us make you a cuppa–or show you the door, as you prefer. ‘Cause we’re not a corporation–no matter what the federal government says, they’re not people until they have feelings. We are real people, with real feelings, and real pride in our work. We respect out customers.

Which is why we don’t take no shit off them, should the occasion arise. Thank you.

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Thank you, Mr. S

The sweetest note arrived at our bookstore late last week. I opened the hand-addressed envelope and a ten-dollar bill fell out.

Good start.

The accompanying letter was from Mike S of Rhode Island, who said he’d come across my book in a used bookstore in Connecticut (Book Barn) and picked it up for a fiver. (Which settles one of the questions that Jack, my agent Pamela, and I have been debating: how long would it take for Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, a book about a used bookstore, to hit the used books market? 32 days.)

But those of you who have read it know that Chapter 24 (or so) deals with how artists do or don’t get paid for their work, pointing out that resale rarely benefits the creator, etc. etc. Mike said he enjoyed the book so much, he felt he had to send me something as the creator of it, hence the ten-spot. Now isn’t that sweet, kind, genteel?

But Mike also pointed out something that’s been on my mind since my NYC discussion with Nichole (my editor at St. Martin’s Press) last month, when she emphasized that only 5% of all booksales in America are through independent bricks-and-mortar shops. Mike (clearly a man of discerning tastes) likened the rise of little bookshops everywhere to the craft beer industry. A market that used to have just three or four big and basic tastes now has microbreweries everywhere–and those little guys have put the social back into drinking. They’ve returned fun to a business that was sinking under its own weight.

Smallness can revolutionize homogeneous bigness. Etsy is doing so for crafters in other materials besides hops; I have friends selling their gorgeous homemade pottery and knitwear–stuff Walmart will never see and that will outlast anything you buy there–for reasonable prices on that small-creators site. And of course, Jack and I run the classic example of a little bookstore: independent, used, and ours. No corporate manuals, no CEO other than Val-Kyttie (whose every whim is catered to, natch).

So, Mr. Mike, as I said in my return thank you note–a thank you note for a thank you note? Anyway–you have done me three good turns: added an example to the thought path I’m headed down, this juxtaposition of little bigness in the American marketplace; gave Jack, Andrew, and me a laugh when that $10 fell to the floor; and funded kitten kibble for the home team. Staff kitten Owen Meany says, “Thank you, Mr. S.”

So say we all.

 

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