Bookstore-sitting gig: Not so charming?
News that Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookshop in Virginia is looking for a bookstore-sitter this fall has been embraced by everyone from Jacket Copy to NPR as a charming idea. In exchange for room and board, the sitter gets a rustic setting, a couple of pets to care for and a bookstore to watch over. Who wouldn’t want to give it a try?
Scott Brown, for one. He’s one of the owners of Eureka Books, an antiquarian bookstore in Eureka, Calif. He slams the idea of leaving a bookstore in the hands of an unpaid volunteer. “If after five years, you don’t sell enough books to pay yourself -- let alone an employee -- and you have to get a teaching job for the benefits (as Ms. Welch did), you aren’t a bookseller, you are a hobbyist.”
Brown notes that Wendy Welch and her husband, owners of the Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore, are leaving it behind to promote her memoir, “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” The book extols the joys of running a small community bookstore, while admitting that it’s not much of a living. On the bookstore’s blog, she compares booksellers to nuns and monks.
That’s not how Brown sees it. “I reject the notion that going into bookselling should be like taking a vow of poverty,” he writes. “The editor who bought the book gets a paycheck, health benefits, paid vacation, and a retirement contribution, as does the publicist, marketing manager, etc. They aren’t working for love.”
“Nor is the company that will print the book, nor are the employees who work the presses. Nor is the company that manufactured the paper. They all expect to get paid. And rightly so.”
“So why is it that Ms. Welch believes that the bookseller at the end of the chain between author and reader should work for love and the occasional pizza and not worry about making money?”
Good question. When Brown and the other new owners -- including his wife, Amy Stewart, author of “Wicked Plants” -- took over in 2007, they had to figure out how to make their bookstore a going concern. Eureka Books is one of seven bookstores in the region of 150,000 people, and he admits that it is neither the oldest nor the largest.
And the numbers show that Eureka Books has been a significant financial part of that community. In 25 years, Brown calculates that $1.25 million in salaries have been paid, about $2 million each have been to locals for used books and into the community for rent and other services, and the store has paid about $1 million in taxes. In that time, the store has sold 750,000 books.
Brown writes that the idea that a bookstore-sitter should be an unpaid serf at the bottom of book lovers’ food chain is “an insulting and intellectually bankrupt view.” That’s a good point.
But did he see how cute the kittens at Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore are?
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