Lee Miller tried to retire last year after 35 years in the book business, the first half on the retail side, including a period as owner of Evergreen Books bookstore in Sudbury, Mass., as well as v-p of sales at Globe Pequot Press and v-p of sales, publishing, at Courier Corp. Suddenly in June, he found himself back working in a bookstore. Here he offers an overview of the experience:
We just spent two weeks running a used bookstore in Scotland. How did that happen?
Wigtown is the official book town of Scotland, a town of not quite 1,000 residents located in Galloway in the southwest of the country. There are a dozen used bookshops in a variety of sizes and specialties. Three of them are also cafes/restaurants. The Wigtown Book Festival takes place every fall, attracting national and local authors along with more than 10,000 people. It would be great fun to experience this book-focused place in its full glory, however, we got to do that for only two weeks in early July.
One of the bookstores was up for sale last year and, after not finding a buyer, the Wigtown Book Festival organization took it over. They established a bookseller residency program as a test for six months, inviting people to run the store for a two-week period and blog about it. Shelf Awareness picked up the story and, in my recently retired status, I applied for me and my wife, Janet.
As you might expect from a town with so many bookshops and so few residents, the businesses are entirely dependent on tourists. Our time there was right on the cusp of the summer season, just as schools were letting out in Scotland and England. We lived in the apartment above the bookshop with a view straight down Main Street. We kept the bookshop open six days a week from 10 to 4, standard hours. By the end of two weeks, we felt like we knew more people in Wigtown than we do in our hometown in Massachusetts.
The many bookshops and book events anchor a community that is otherwise quite remote and quiet (and beautiful!), and in the process draws creativity. It not only draws creative people, but encourages writing and other creativity among its residents. As one resident said, "Look under any rock and you find something going on." As is so often the case with bookstores, this is a lifestyle choice, and one that the booksellers work hard to maintain. The challenge they face is to keep the small town appeal while drawing more people to it. Like all of the other visitors we talked to, we felt that we had indeed discovered a very special place, the most generous of places.
The residency program is continuing. Anyone interested in experiencing this uniquely bookish and friendly town can apply at www.wigtownbookfestival.com. Come for two weeks; maybe you'll decide to move here and set up shop!
The blog kept by the residents--including yours truly--is available at theopenbookwigtown.tumblr.com/. There is also a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheOpenBookWigtown --Lee Miller