Life Stories #53: Wendy Welch

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Life Stories: Wendy Welch
photo courtesy Wendy Welch

In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast series where I talk to memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, I’m joined by Wendy Welch, the co-owner of Tales of the Lonesome Pine, a used bookstore and café in southwestern Virginia. Her memoir about opening that store, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, recently came out in paperback, and I asked her about whether she’d been able to forge connections with other bookstore owners during the previous year, when it was a hardcover release. First, she told me about a road trip she and her husband undertook even before the book had come out:

“We went to 42 small towns, looking for bookstores, just looking for bookstores in small towns across America—out to Kansas and back up. It was fairly amazing; we found that about 18 of those small towns were thriving… We started just looking for bookstores, and then we started looking at the small towns themselves… We met a lot of bookstore owners and a lot of small business owners on that trip. Some of them we went back to and visited after the book came out or they were very gracious about promoting it.

“But the big thing was, in the year since then… a lot of people came to the bookstore to visit. Other bookstore owners, but also just people—girlfriend posses, reading clubs, writing clubs—they just wanted to see the bookstore, our bookstore. And they would come and tell us the loveliest stories about their bookstores back in their hometown, then when they went home, they would connect us. So there’s a lot of Facebook friends and there’s actually a support group we started on Facebook for some small bookstores across the midwest.

“We call it the second round of community… We knew that in our community, we were making a community around the bookstore, but that second round of readers and writers and bookstore owners across America and even in some other countries… That’s been absolutely lovely.”

We also talk about, among other things, some of the initial obstacles they faced in trying to start a business in a small community, and about how Wendy’s memoir started out as a record that she set down for herself, in order to make sense of everything that had happened during those early struggles. If you enjoyed the recent Life Stories episode where Ellen Stimson talked about trying to run a general store in rural Vermont, I think you’ll get a big kick out of my conversation with Wendy—and if you haven’t heard that one yet, you might circle back to it after you finish this one!

Listen to Life Stories #53: Wendy Welch (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

18 November 2013 | life stories |