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Rise In E-Readers Doesn't Worry Virginia Bookstore Owners

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A Virginia bookstore owner's memoir, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, talks about the important role bookstores play in communities.
A Virginia bookstore owner's memoir, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, talks about the important role bookstores play in communities.

At a time when e-book readers are selling in record numbers, traditional bookstores are feeling the crunch and, in many cases, are closing. But many independent bookstore owners say their businesses play crucial roles in the lives of readers, especially in smaller communities.

That's the subject of a new memoir, called, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, written by Virginia bookstore co-owner Wendy Welch.

"There never had been a bookstore in Big Stone Gap before, ever," says Jack Beck, the bookstore's other co-owner, and Welch's husband.

"We had always talked about opening a bookstore someday," says Welch. "Someday when you retired, someday when I was teaching college. It was one of those things, people always say, someday I'm gonna..."

When the couple moved to Big Stone Gap, they weren't actually planning on opening a bookstore. But then they found an old Victorian house for sale, and suddenly, that someday just snuck up on them.

"The first thing you do is take your own personal book collection, and you ruthlessly promise each other that you are going to put every book you will die without parting with, into the bookstore," Welch says.

The couple had 2,000 books to start the store -- not quite enough. Welch started haunting yard sales around the town.

"I collected this 1,500 or so volumes of Readers Digest, condensed books, Farrah Fawcett 1970 detox diets, and Jackie Collins past bestsellers," she says.

Next, they had to find a way to advertise. She says Beck printed thousands of bookmarks, stuffed them in his pockets, and went to Walmart to hand them out to customers. And somehow, improbably, their bookstore, called Tails of the Lonesome Pine, has been a huge success.

Recently, they took a road trip to see how the economy was affecting other used bookstores. What they learned is a little different from what they had been hearing on the news.

"A lot of the bookstores that we had gone into, we found were almost like community centers," she says. "It's where people would gather to chat, to have a coffee, to just hang out."

Even with Nooks, Kindles and Amazon, Welch and Beck don't seem worried about the future of these brick and mortar bookstores. In fact, when they talk about the role small bookstores play in communities, they sound so confident, it's almost like they know something about the rest of us that we haven't figured out yet.

"Many people over the years coming into our store have said, 'oh, I've always wanted to open a bookstore,'" says Welch. "It seems to be something that lots of people have hovering at the back of their mind. So, potentially there are an awful lot of bookstore owners out there."

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