Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Remember Customer Service? We do.

Little Bookstore is one of several on a list of second-hand bookslingers who trade ideas and share knowledge–including that there’s such a thing as being TOO local. People can take the approach that you must be in this small town because you couldn’t make it in the big city; I’ve just come back from an economic summit where rural town managers discussed this problem.

Being too local is a problem anytime of year, but at Christmas, people can also eschew specialty businesses because they believe making a mad dash through the discount warehouses will be “cheaper and more convenient.”

(Yeah, and the shortcut is always faster….)

Small Business Saturday and the Christmas season tend to be a special challenge for bookstores because much of our unique charm lies in our handselling technique; a proprietor knows his or her customers, and has developed a relationship of trust, of not trying to just sell, sell, sell but to match. We take pride in matching the correct book to the right person. Trust is the foundation of customer service, trying to help the customer rather than meet an imposed quota.

Everybody sells books at Christmas, but who can greet you by name, ask how your niece liked Divergent, suggest a new detective series because they know you like mysteries themed around food? Or, who can meet you for the first time, listen to a list of the last five books your dad read and what he thought of them, and then suggest the perfect present based on that information? How much time will you save with that kind of service?

That’s what we do, and what our friends in the bookselling business do. Because we are our businesses; we don’t just work for them. We believe in selling you what you want, not what you’ve been told you need. And we believe you are your own person.

Visit your local bookseller this holiday season–be it Paperback Book Exhange in Neenah, Wisconsin; Al’s Books out in Kansas; maybe that sweet little Country Bookshop in North Carolina; or one of the other 2,500-or-so used book shops across America. The coffee will be hot, the chairs comfy, the kittens purring, and the proprietors ready to listen, serve, and smile.

 

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

Shopsitter Janelle says Farewell

We’re running a bit behind on timing because of the author humiliation contest – more entries posted Friday! This is our first shopsitter of the summer’s farewell post, and Kelly, our second shopsitter will be sending a post next week. (BTW, if you’re interested in shopsitting, we are looking for a week in October and a couple of weeks in December.)

Sadly, our shopsitting visit is soon coming to an end already.

We are excited about the potential of our final day sitting the shop, and we are tickled to have company coming for lunch tomorrow, too…folks that moved from our home area near Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Chuckey, Tennessee, several years ago. We just now realized how near to them we are while here.

To be honest, this shopsitting gig has been far more like a vacation than work. We have come to feel far more like family than “hired” help. And we have done more reading and relaxing than we have work. The latter I understand, I think. If I were home I’d find plenty to do (I’m pretty sure I have weeds waiting for me in my yard, taller than I am) but no matter how much work I invent for myself to do here (like re-organizing book stacks or putting sections of books back into alphabetical order or sweeping the front porch or doing dishes or laundry) I’ve still been getting to read and visit with guests (and Facebook) more than I would if I were at home this week.

And as for relaxing vacation, I’m not completely sure what to make of that, but I think it’s the Wendy factor. She has told her local people to make us feel welcome, and they sure have. We have been included in invitations to dinner and swim aerobics and church and told where the local walking/running trail is numerous times…and been included in pretty much all else that has gone on while we have been here. We have eaten nearly every meal offered (that will need to be addressed when we get home, too!) and, when I think about it, taken up very few of the exercise offers presented us. But Wendy threw out on Facebook that we wanted to do some local hiking, and after all sorts of suggestions for where we should/could go, kind friend Destiny simply said she would come and lead us, and she and her son Jack did!

I learned a lot while we were here; there is no question. I go home no less eager to one day have my own bookstore, no less eager to have Natalie bake and maybe cook for me like Kelley does in the Second Story Cafe here. Wendy and Kelley make that all look like a very easy, symbiotic relationship, not a “tough” job at all.

Wendy does, indeed, make it all look enjoyable and easy…although I do fear that I’d find in my own shop lots to do instead of this relaxed “I could do that” style. We prevented Wendy’s work from getting done sometimes with plenty of conversations, several good meals, a mutual glass of wine or bottle of beer here or there. Sometimes I really wanted her to go “make stuff,” assured that we could manage things here, and when she did, that’s when I felt I was contributing the most.

Otherwise, let’s be honest: I’d far prefer to hear her conversation with a guest to the shop–the exchange of local chit-chat, or updates on pet adoptions or procedures, or discussion of a new book, or valuing of books brought in for trade. If she wasn’t really “gone” from the shop, it was too easy for her to step in and do those things, and I seized the opportunities, then, to learn from the master.

I’ve very much enjoyed this adventure with my two youngest daughters, watching them melt kitten hearts and make new friends, devour books (Natalie stayed up until 2:40AM Saturday night…err, Sunday morning… finishing Water For Elephants, which she had started only the night before. It’s one of my all-time favorite books! How can I be upset with that activity?!) And I loved us getting to see, together, parts of the country we had not previously visited. Delaney’s determination to be THE one to get to “do the Square” any time a customer paid with a card or to be the one to take their cash, for that matter, showed me she has those super original cashier skills, communicating clearly and doing math in her head to make change (rather than NEED a cash register to do it for her). We go home with a new bond of mutual adventure and with many memories to share.

It’s like reading a book with someone, only better. The girls and I have shared a tremendous adventure, and I can only imagine how soon we’ll all talk about coming back! I imagine it will come up in the thirteen-hour ride home.Janelle on porch
Thanks for your hospitality, all. We have had a great time!

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

Shopsitter Janelle’s Guest Blog

Janelle on porchThe idea for a trip to Virginia to shopsit was hatched on a quiet April night in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, when Delaney (my fifth daughter, age 9) and I were volunteering at their library during the Fox Cities Book Festival. We were hosts for Wendy Welch’s event. I’d perused Wendy’s blog and was intrigued by her story and her writing voice, and I was tickled to get to introduce her that evening at the event (that’s a promotion from straight volunteer!).

DSCN0560Delaney and I enjoyed the presentation by Wendy and her husband Jack, and at the end of it we bought a copy of their book, had it signed, took a silly photo with Wendy (Delaney’s request)…and in our parting, I said, “The next time you need a shop sitter, I’m your gal.” I say things like that, and I actually mean them, too.

DSCN0559We friended each other on Facebook later that evening, and it seems like it was just two weeks later when Wendy messaged her summer needs for a shopsitter. I was tickled, but there was a lot to manage yet in my spring schedule, and I couldn’t totally conceive of how it would all work. But it turned out that there was, indeed, a week when my two of my five daughters and I could make it to Virginia. Plans were confirmed.

I’d have loved to have brought all five, but three work all of the hours that they can at their jobs, so  it became clear that Natalie (age 15), Delaney (still 9), and I (age unnecessary) would be going on an adventure.

Janelle sceneryWe departed the Green Bay area at 6:30AM (only 1/2 hour behind our intended departure time) and headed for Big Stone Gap. With only very minor issues (including being flipped off at our first toll stop in Chicago), we very much enjoyed our trip south and east…then east and south…and yet further south…through amazing scenery and gorgeous natural landscapes (more interestingly beautiful the closer we got)…right into Big Stone and right up to the front steps of Tales of the Lonesome Pine (aka the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap), where the lights were on and the beds made in our honor. (Wendy was teaching a night class.) It was just about 8PM, eastern standard time…and the store looked exactly the same as its pictures on the book and in this blog.

We walked in and found our way around the shop/house/cafe according to Wendy’s directions, moved in our luggage, and then walked straight to the Dairy Queen a few blocks away. It called to us. And by the time we returned, Wendy was home.

janelle viewWe visited a bit, got a crash course set of instructions on selling books and collecting for cafe receipts (Delaney was delighted and most excited to be able to help any customers needing to process credit cards) and were told that Wendy would be leaving early the next morning, meaning we would open the shop and start the day that way. Okay! We were ready.

We attempted sleep…and two of the three of us got some. And then it was time. Wendy handed me my first cup of coffee and showed me how and where to get more. From there I could manage anything (I had my cup of joe)! And she was off. In her wake there were a couple of dogs in the shop who needed to be downstairs,by my recollection of instructions, but I got that sorted out, the girls got up and moving, and we were ready for the day.

The books on the shelves called to me, and I perused them with adoration, drawn to familiar authors or titles…or titles that made me giggle or feel intrigued. Wendy said part of the shopsitting deal was we got to take “any and all books you want.”

“Even if I empty out the shelves?” I thought to myself.

I started a stack with a beautiful hardcover copy of Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. Umm…note that said stack is currently divided into two stacks, each a foot-plus high.

janelle basketThere was a long time, though, between 7AM and our 10AM opening. I spent quite a bit of that time looking for light switches (Have you read the book? Then you’ll understand.) and some didn’t get found until helpful Erin arrived. I very much enjoyed the visits with and time spent getting to know Erin and Kelley, chief and sous chefs of the Second Story Cafe upstairs, and she also provided a second and maybe third cup of coffee. (And later bowls of delicious sausage and chicken gumbo. And a grilled cheese sandwich for Delaney.)

Soon the door opened and then I blinked and two days had passed, with the graceful entrances of friendly folks, either to peruse books or to meet Wendy because they’d read Little Bookstore or to eat in the cafe or to pick up food or specifically coming to welcome us. And those at the end of that list certainly made a tremendous impact. How wonderful to be welcomed into this small place; it has big hearts.

And so this is starting, very much, to feel like a treasured other home. (Don’t worry, Jack! We’re not more cats moving in.) I like it here. I enjoy visiting with customers, straightening, sorting, playing with foster kittens, helping folks find books, and “ringing up” purchases. Things got even more exciting Friday when I got to serve a few lunches in the cafe. Mind you, I have zero waitressing experience in my past, but I do LOVE good food and ENJOY good service. So I did do my best; hopefully Kelley thinks so, too.

We have a few more days of fun to go! Stop in and say hello.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, writing, YA fiction

The Day After Syndrome

Those of you who do any kind of travel for work will recognize this syndrome: you go to where you’ve been invited, do your stuff well and intensely for a week if you’re in a festival or at a conference, or if you’re an itinerant consultant or storyteller, several places over a month or two.

And the last night, post-reception, post-e-mail exchanges with other artists, post-follow-ups on future events you’d like to get contacts for, the last night before you go home, you walk or cab back to the hotel contemplating all the wonderful people the world holds, how glad you are you got to teach writing skills to so many students, how energizing and lovely they were, how happy and blessed you are to do this kind of work.

Entering your hotel room, the evening lies spread before you like a peacock’s tail: will you swim first, walk across to that little Greek diner and get your salad? Check your e-mails? Download and post your photos of the two schools and the festival talk you did that day?

You sit down. And that’s the last time you move, except to pick up the remote to find the latest reality TV show, and sure enough here are a bunch of decorative thirtysomethings all mad at each other for no reason you can discern, but wait, are those dead people? Oh, this is the one your friends have been talking about for the past year, but you can’t follow a thing. Why do they keep killing each other instead of the zombies?

You might also find energy enough to open that ale you bought at the beginning of the week in a fit of localvoreism but didn’t drink yet because you’ve been doing three events a day and chatting with people and you wanted to be clear-headed.

After the zombies, a rerun of a Hollywood talk show will appear. You’ll channel surf, sit through half of something called Game of Thrones–and if you thought the undead-ers were incomprehensible…. If it’s a game, why are all these people screwing each other all the time–literally?

Hi ho the glamorous life. You can get a lot done during the weeknights back at the hotel, high on events that have gone well. Discipline exists for those evenings. But that last night before you go home, just take two aspirin and go to bed hollow, drained, as if the Dump Truck of Art hit you from behind, then sped off laughing while your body lay sprawled on the pavement.

It will pass. By the time you get home, you’ll be raring to get back to your writing schedule, answer e-mails that yes, you’d LOVE to go to the next place. More cool people to meet, fun places to visit, great ideas to explore. Life comes back.

exhaustion photoIt’s okay to take that night off, the day after; regroup, recharge, relax. Just stay off social media and DON’T take any selfies. Trust me on this; no good will come of it. Put the remote in your hand, and don’t touch anything else with an On switch. This, too, shall pass.

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Filed under between books, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, writing, YA fiction

Wisconsin Teachers Rock!

Jack’s weekly guest blog

I love singing and telling stories in schools, something I haven’t done in a fairly long time. This week Wendy and I are in Appleton, Wisconsin doing school and library appearances as part of The Fox Cities Book Festival.

DSCN0174Back when we lived in Scotland I used to do quite a bit of song-writing sessions with kids in the upper classes of primary schools, and got a tremendous kick out of working with that age group. The equivalent over here is grade 4 or 5 in elementary schools. It’s my favorite age group because they still have enormous curiosity and enthusiasm, and haven’t yet glimpsed the approaching diversions of the teenage years.

During this week we sang songs with them and told stories, and then fielded a host of wildly different questions – “How many cats do you have? Do you wear a skirt in Scotland? Is a loch something you find on a door? Have you seen the Loch Ness Monster? How many books are in your shop? Etc, Etc – – –

It’s become obvious to us why Wisconsin schools have such a high reputation! The ones we visited were bright and cheerful, with enthusiastic and engaged teachers, artwork adorning the walls, kids controlled and respectful while also cheerful and inquisitive.

And yet, this is the state where “collective bargaining” for teachers turned into AWOL senators, people taking the doors off the Capital’s central chambers, and names hurled with more fury than accuracy on all sides. It might puzzle some people why teachers so maligned in those days remain committed to their profession. Seeing them in action this week, we can say without a doubt that their first allegiance is to the children. God Bless the teachers of Wisconsin! (And the rest of the world, come to it.)

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Filed under Hunger Games, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing