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How an endorsement from Tom Hanks and Stephen Colbert saved a small bookstore

According to Tom Hanks, Foggy Pine Books has "the best selection in all of Boone."
/ Source: TODAY

Before last month's Super Bowl, Foggy Pine Books was one of the thousands of small, locally owned businesses floundering amid the coronavirus pandemic. Nestled in the Appalachian town of Boone, North Carolina, the bookstore had calculated that it needed to sell a minimum of 1,350 books per month to stay open. In January, it had sold 836.

Thanks to a gift from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert — along with some help from Tom Hanks — that changed in an instant.

Super Bowl ads are precious real estate, typically reserved for the corporations who can pay millions to produce and run them. But as Colbert pointed out, "These big companies aren't the ones who need our support the most right now. It's small businesses out there who have been hurt the most in this pandemic."

So he picked one small business to give its "very own, very real high-octane Super Sunday ad." And the lucky winner was Foggy Pine Books.

A small bookstore glows warmly as rain falls outside
Foggy Pine Books in Boone, North Carolina.@foggypinebooks / Instagram

“(The show) had a research team... looking for small businesses that had been impacted by the pandemic," owner Mary Ruthless, who takes they/them pronouns, told TODAY. "Something that we did stood out.”

Ruthless suspects that the bookstore's transparency distinguished it from other contenders. Every month, it posts an update to Instagram that details its sales numbers and goals. According to one of those updates, the business was "struggling deeply."

“I did everything I could try to do to stay in business. There were several weeks I didn’t take a paycheck, I had to lay people off after our PPE ran out, but we made it through the holidays," said Ruthless. "I was really pleased with that, but winter is our slowest season and I was really concerned about whether or not we were going to make it through the season.”

The life-changing ad, narrated by actor Sam Elliott, paid homage to reading as a kind of adventure. It even included an emphatic endorsement from Tom Hanks.

"Foggy Pine Books has the best selection in all of Boone," he said in the ad. "They have books on all of my interests, such as World War II, and also books about the events from 1939 to 1945."

After the ad aired, Ruthless said that Foggy Pine was "just absolutely slammed" with orders. They received more orders in the first few hours than they typically do for an entire month, especially in the winter. They heard from people across the globe, spanning from Ecuador to Finland.

Since then, business has slowed down a bit, but Foggy Pine is still busier than normal.

"I’m hoping that this opportunity allows us to make meaningful connections with new customers," said Ruthless. "And to just add more people to the community of book lovers that we’re trying to build."