How Big Stone Gap Beat Amazon.com

When Borders Books declared bankruptcy in 2011, a seismic shudder ran through the book world. Was this the end? Article after article sounded the death knell for booksellers whose brick-and-mortar stores simply couldn’t compete with Amazon.com’s guerilla pricing and vast inventory.

Ironically, the world’s largest online retailer started as a home-based business when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos set up shop in his garage in 1994. Though Bezos says that customer service is Amazon’s driving force, from the beginning his goal was to build “Earth’s biggest bookstore.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum lies one of Earth’s smallest bookstores—Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Owners Wendy Welch and Scottish folksinger Jack Beck opened the store after tiring of the big-city rat race. Their dream was to create a welcoming place where books and the arts would help people, including themselves, stop feeling like they were “renting the space inside their own skin.”

Living above their store, low on cash, and blissfully ignorant of what it would take to survive, Wendy and Jack struggled through the early days of low inventory, a nonexistent marketing budget, and a handful of suspicious neighbors to create a gathering spot that became the beating heart of their community. Drawn by Wendy and Jack’s personal touch and quirky personalities, customers buy books, eat, drink, knit, sing, tell stories, and sometimes even dance to Jack’s Scottish folk music.

Wendy’s wry, funny, heartwarming memoir, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap (St. Martin’s Press), stands as reminder in an Amazon world that all the lovely things that go with books—a chat, a cup of tea, and the warmth of friendship—can’t be purchased online. If customers wish it, there will always be a place in a cyber-mad society for booksellers whose primary concern is to enrich their customers’ minds and souls.

So here’s a suggestion: visit your local indie bookstore and buy a copy of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap for yourself and another for a book-loving friend at (gasp) full price. Consider it a $50 donation that helps stake a claim for things that truly matter.

About the Author

Sandy Swartzentruber serves as the resource coordinator for Faith Formation Ministries and is a member of Sherman Street CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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Sounds like a terrific place to visit and hang out with friends!

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