You can’t judge a bookstore by its sign

Words n’ Stuff is a great little bookstore.

It’s in a place called Van Lear, in the hills of eastern Kentucky, near where I grew up.

Words n’ Stuff isn’t big, and it isn’t fancy. It doesn’t have a Starbucks, but if you’d ask, I’ll bet they’d give you a cup of coffee.

Words n’ Stuff is for people who love books. It has everything from local history to world religions, literary fiction to romance novels, new hard covers to used paperbacks.

If you go there, you’ll buy something. You can’t help it. You will.

We went there when we were visiting my folks last weekend, and we left with a memoir of Amelia Earhart’s first solo flight across the Atlantic, an Edmund Morris biography of Theodore Roosevelt, a book of essays by Jonathan Franzen and some children’s books.

We might have bought more, but Thing 2 got restless. There’s a good children’s section at Words n’ Stuff, but no train tables.

What impresses me most about Words n’ Stuff, though, is that it’s in Van Lear. Van Lear isn’t the place where you’d expect to find a great little bookstore.

Van Lear was built by the Consolidation Coal Co. in 1909 and named for a company director, Van Lear Black.

(If the name of the place sounds familar, it’s probably because Loretta Lynn mentions the Van Lear mines in her song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and in the title song of her album, Van Lear Rose, which won a Grammy in a few years ago.¬†Dwight Yoakum mentions the mines in the song, “Miner’s Prayer,” which was on Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.)

Van Lear is unincorporated. There isn’t a downtown. Words n’ Stuff is one of Van Lear’s only retail businesses. People who live in Van Lear tend to shop and work someplace else.

I can’t find 2010 Census data for Van Lear, but in 2000, about 2,100 people lived in the bookstore’s ZIP code. Only 10% of them had bachelor’s degrees (the national average was 24%), while the median household income was $26,600 (compared with the national average of $42,000).

If you were Barnes & Noble’s or Borders, who wouldn’t give Van Lear a second look.

I think that’s worked to Van Lear’s advantage.