Tag Archives: small town businesses

A Little Help from our Friends

Jack guest blogs on the value of friendships, especially in small town shops

This weekend we are once again on our travels with book events, from the John Fox Festival here at home, through a visit to Clifton Forge Library, and then on to the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. As usual when we are away for a few days our friends rally round to staff the bookstore on rota.

Just call us The Little Book Co-op of Big Stone Gap.

These friends handle book sales, oh yes, but there are also the shop animals to care for, boxes of donated or traded in books to be valued and priced (or politely refused), mail to be collected and opened for book orders, and phone inquiries to be responded to. Although amazed that anyone would be willing to take this on, we are delighted that we have so many friends who will. They represent one aspect of the community presence of our bookstore; we really are almost a co-operative owned by its customers. Quite often a ‘regular’ will be hanging out, checking e-mails or browsing the bookshelves, when suddenly he finds himself in charge of the shop for ten minutes while I do a post office run or dash out for milk.

Occasions like this weekend require a bit more pre-planning, but, despite other calls on folks’ time, we always manage to keep the shop open. We never succumb to the erosion of hours, no matter how tempting; it’s our observation that when small businesses become careless about that, their days are numbered.

So, we pay homage to the many friends of ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ AKA ‘The little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’.  And we also salute Mark and Sally Smith of Memphis, who are coming to watch the shop for two weeks in April while we get our Christmas and birthdays 2012 and 2013/Valentine’s Day/fifteenth wedding anniversary holiday in. (We’re going to Istanbul. It’s expensive. We’ve been saving for months and we’re going to have the time of our lives.)

You’re going to love Big Stone, Mark and Sally, and they’re gonna love you. Our thanks to you all for keeping the shop while we’re running about promoting a book about bookstores. There’s a certain full-circle feel about it, don’t you think?

For more examples of how people have rallied to their community bookstores, check out the March 18 Christian Science Monitor article detailing bookstores that have been moved, staffed, or even cooked for by locals lending a hand. If you’re in Illinois (Edwardsville, to be precise) check out Afterwords Bookstore, a lovely shop with a similar story. Or ask your local bookshop about their ‘co-op’ friends. They’re guaranteed to have some.


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

For All Good Gifts, We are Thankful

One of the joys of running a small-town bookshop is how often people come in with stuff they just want to give you. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Last week neighbors who winter garden stopped in for the first time ever, told us how much they enjoyed the book, and handed over a large plastic bag filled with… blue-green curly stuff. I admit freely that my idea of cooking is a lot of ingredients thrown into one dish, and no stirring, but our new friends thoughtfully added an index card detailing instructions on how to steam the kale to perfection. It was so delicious, shopsitter Andrew and I fought over the last piece.
  • Awhile back, Jack was feeling poorly and went upstairs to bed just before one of our regulars came in. Frank has two fixations in life: homeopathic medicine, and JFK’s assassination. He often stops by to gather reading material on both. When he discovered his favorite Scottish co-conspiracy theorist was tucked up in bed, he said, “I know just what he needs,” nipped out to his truck, and came back with a bottle of Nature’s Remedy Cayenne Pepper Pills. “Guaranteed to cure what ails you,” he said, thrusting them at me. “One tonight, one in the morning. I’ll check back to see how he’s doing.” (Jack recovered.)
  • A man who buys thrillers and western stopped in, looking sheepish, and handed over a paper bag. Inside, a canning jar was about 1/4 full of clear liquid, two dried apricots swimming in it. “It was full,” he said, “and I intended it for y’all, but my son stopped by and he found it where I had it hid in the cupboard.” Jack unscrewed the lid and lightning and purple snakes flew from the brew. He certainly enjoyed those apricots.
  • It’s a sad fact that we can’t take our yarn stashes with us when we go; many donations of a late loved one’s wooly goods have made their way to the bookshop, where the needlework babes spend a pleasant evening untangling them for the communal stash drawer.
  • One Spring day a child who lives in the neighborhood and likes to hang out in the shop walked in and handed me a shoebox. “I brung you a rabbit,” he said. Nervously, I shifted the lid an inch–to reveal a very tall, very stylish paper-mache rabbit sculpted by his small hands from newspaper. Around the base was painted “Bookstore Ester Bunnie.”
  • A woman who shops with us infrequently opened the door and said, “This was at a yard sale, and I thought of you because I wanted to buy it but I didn’t need it.” In her arms lay a beautiful black 1930s-era typewriter. She supervised its placement on a display table, stepped back, and smiled. “I knew it would fit in here,” she said, and marched out without another word.
  • Another woman walked in and handed me a lava lamp. “I didn’t want to throw it away, thought it would like nice in the children’s room here,” she said, beaming. My husband stared at the offending object. “Looks phallic,” he muttered. (BTW, do you know how hard it is to “accidentally” break a lava lamp? Took four tries.)

It’s good to run a shop in a small town. Mendy, who recently opened a local craft store, said she scored three pies, a potholder loom and a dozen brownies her first week.


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