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The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

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Highlights: The author's love for books and people is heart-warming. The couple's struggles in a small town will remind any small-town dweller why living in one can be both wonderful and trying all at the same time.
Synopsis: Wendy Welch and her husband Jack Beck decide to open a used bookstore in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Wendy shares the trials and tribulations of making their dream a reality.



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Bibliophiles who have ever dreamed of opening their own bookstore will love every aspect of this book.


The author does repeat some themes, but that is because as owners they kept running into similar issues during their journey of making the store a success.

Posted November 24, 2014 by

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Anyone who has read my articles will have come to realize two things: first, that I love reading, and second, that I love visiting bookstores. Every time I go to a new place, I always check out the local bookstores. Not the big box stores, but the independently owned and operated mom-and-pop run bookstores. While browsing such a bookstore a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a non-fiction work about a couple’s experiences operating a bookstore: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch. Although I am not in the habit of handing out the grade of “A+” on a regular basis, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap deserves one. In fact, for the year 2014, it is by far my favorite read of all.

Bookstore owners Jack Beck and Wendy Welch. Picture from http://wendywelchbigstonegap.wordpress.com/.

Bookstore owners Jack Beck and Wendy Welch. Picture from http://wendywelchbigstonegap.wordpress.com.

Wendy Welch and her husband Jack Beck were working fast-paced, high-stress jobs in a large city when they made the decision to leave that world behind them and open a used bookstore in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. The two had little money, little business experience, and very few books. What they did have was a passion for books and a desire to share that passion with others. That passion became a bookstore named Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookstore, Internet Cafe, and Bistro.


The couple purchased a house in Big Stone Gap that would serve as both home and business. With the exception of the pets they brought with them, they did not know another living soul in the small town, but that did not deter them. Word quickly spread in the community that a small bookstore would be opening there, and although people did not hold out much hope of the store lasting more than a year, as the couple later found out, citizens in the area seemed genuinely excited to have a bookstore in their town. After opening, Wendy and Jack had great success, followed by slumps, followed by success, followed by slumps; a cycle that repeated itself with alarming regularity. Yet, through these experiences, the couple learned, adapted, made friends, made a few enemies, and found their way. Years later, they discovered that their store was more than just a place to buy and sale used books. It had become part of the beating heart of Big Stone Gap.

I love absolutely everything about The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. Wendy Welch’s writing is excellent; readers really get a sense of who she and her husband are. You feel like you know their pets, their hopes, their fears, their lives. Her writing makes her tales even more engaging, such as the story of Wee Willie, one of their favorite customers. Welch describes him as follows: “A diffident, slight man with the improbable nickname of ‘Wee Willie’ shopped with us regularly. His nickname alone should have been enough to arouse sympathy, but Wee Willie could talk the hind leg off a donkey, a pair of horses, and an entire herd of antelope. The guy never stopped. From the moment he entered the shop with his customary, ‘Hey, y’all! How’s life?’ until he backed out the door with a week’s supply of reading material, Willie talked.” Yet, the couple came to know and love Wee Willie. Then one day, a young lady brought in a pile of books for donation; she was Wee Willie’s daughter. Willie had passed away. In the conversation that ensued, they learned that Wee Willie could not read. He always donated the books he purchased to the veterans at the local hospital. Welch later reflects, “And that was that. Wee Willie never came talking through the door again. But that Christmas we asked another customer with connections to the VA to take a box of donations there in Wee Willie’s honor. We picked out covers Wee Willie would have liked: men holding guns and snarling, yet looking nobler and gentler than one might expect, and I cried the whole time.” Little gems like this story are peppered throughout The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, which adds even more enjoyment to the reading of this wonderful work.

Big Stone Gap

Reading The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap makes me want to drive to Virginia and hang out with the owners. They might think that odd, but based on some of the stories in Welch’s book, that would help me fit right in. This book was both enjoyable and heart-warming. I highly recommend it to anyone with a pulse, but especially to those who love books, people, and people who love books. If you can’t make the drive to Big Stone Gap, then just check out Wendy Welch’s website, buy the book, and settle in for a great read.

Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.


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