Independent Bookstores Thrive Throughout the State
The state’s vibrant independent bookstore scene creates community hubsBy Leah Chester-Davis
Independent booksellers from the state’s mountains to the coast thrive on opening their stores to new ideas. Author readings and signings, story hours for children, musical evenings, gatherings with different themes, and other events create local hubs prized by their communities.
“I love the individuality of independent bookstores,” says Leslie Lanier, owner of Books to be Red on Ocracoke Island. “They are all so different, you never know what treasure you will find.”
Although booksellers face market pressures including big-box chains and online sales, national trends are promising for book lovers, which seem to be reflected in North Carolina’s vibrant independent bookstores scene.
“Nationally, new stores are opening, established stores are finding new owners, and a new generation is coming into the business as both owner/managers and frontline booksellers,” says Dan Cullen with the American Booksellers Association. “All of this is a result of the fact that indie booksellers remain a resilient and entrepreneurial group.”
The creativity and inspiration these places provide make them worthy stops (or destinations all their own) when out and about in the state. Some are anchored in otherwise nondescript strip malls; others are located in historic buildings with a story.
While asking a book lover to name a favorite store is akin to asking a parent to name a favorite child, we can offer a few recommendations that merit a visit:
55 Haywood Street, Asheville
Malaprop’s is an institution in downtown Asheville. The acclaimed bookstore is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. It was recognized in 2000 as the Publisher’s Weekly Bookseller of the Year, putting it on the map for publicists and authors around the nation, according to owner Emoke B’Racz.
B’Racz is a political exile from communist Hungary who credits her love of books as an inheritance from her grandmother who lived through two World Wars, a revolution, and communist rule. She has contributed to the revitalization of downtown Asheville in her quest to make Malaprop’s “a place where poetry matters; where women’s words are as important as men’s; where one is surprised by excellence; where good writing has a home; where I could nurture my addiction to literature, and play, enjoy and entertain people drawn to quality books.”
When she first opened, many of the neighboring store fronts were abandoned and boarded up. Now she finds her store a destination as a popular home for those who like to hang out, browse, discover new authors and listen to a book reading by a favorite author.
“Independent book stores are most important for our cultural sanity,” she says. “I see young people clutching the book to their heart, and that is enough of an incentive for us to be here for them. You can save a dollar here or there, but you cannot discount a child’s yearning for knowledge from a favorite book. It is a magical thing when they find the book on the shelf and begin reading and thinking their own thoughts and nurturing their imagination. That is the best future I can ask for.”
The store, located in a building constructed in the early 1900s, hosts local and national authors and poetry readings several times each month. It provides meeting space for book clubs, hosts class trips from local schools, story hours, poetry on demand (B’Racz is a poetry lover) and more.
Among the many popular features of the store, B’Racz includes the friendly and knowledgeable staff, the “fabulous” children’s sections, the “staff recommends” and “blind date with a book seller” features, and the regional sections. All sections are well stocked and change as readers change their reading habits.
South Main Book Company
110 South Main Street, Salisbury
South Main Book Company has something for everyone.
“We are active in the community. It’s a two-way street. I have awesome customers!” says Wendy Beeker, of South Main Book Company. “I think having an independent bookstore reflects the good economic health of a town. People that support local shops really understand how vital we all are to each other.”
Beeker is most proud of her store’s children’s section. “Young readers are where my heart is,” she explains. “There is nothing better than the kid finding his or her first “real” book — Nancy Drew or a dragon series, it doesn’t matter. Reading saved me when I was a kid in a very turbulent home. Being a good reader is everything.”
The building that houses her bookstore dates back well over 100 years, holding other businesses through that span. “Bookstores are obviously full of knowledge, but also local knowledge,” Beeker says. “I have an 86-year-old customer who worked here (in this building) after school in the afternoons as a stock boy.”
The store has a coffee bar, and Beeker encourages customers to bring their lunch. “It’s a good place to convene.”
Books to be Red
34 School Road, Ocracoke
Far to the east, off the southern tip of the Outer Banks, Books to be Red is located “in a Sears-Roebuck house with 10-foot ceilings and fabulous crown moldings,” says owner Leslie Lanier. The house dates back to the late 1800s. “So many of the houses on the island were built with salvaged shipwreck parts; this house was owned by someone that could afford to buy new,” she adds.
It was the perfect place for Lanier’s bookstore, served by Tideland EMC, which also includes pottery, jewelry, gifts, art supplies, greeting cards and puzzles. The shop has one room dedicated to board books, picture books and toys for children.
“A bookstore is a place for ideas. I like having discussions with locals and visitors to hear different opinions,” Lanier says. “I also think browsing through books is a nice way to spend the afternoon. You can always find an author that you haven’t read yet.”
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Festival of Books and Authors
When: September 7–10
Where: Winston-Salem’s Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts and the surrounding areas on Spruce, Poplar and Holly Streets
Each year, Bookmarks, a Winston-Salem based literary nonprofit, hosts the Festival of Books and Authors, a celebration of books, authors and readers and the largest book festival in the Carolinas.
In its 13th year, the festival is known for featuring big-name, award-winning, New York Times bestselling authors along with first-time authors who are worthy of discovery. More than 45 authors in the fiction, nonfiction, children’s book, young adult, poets, and storytellers categories will participate this year in readings, panels and book signings. The festival has something to offer all ages.
While the event features a few author sessions that require purchasing a ticket, the Saturday, September 9, offerings are free from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reading-related exhibitors, food trucks and creative activities for children add to the festive flair. Visit bookmarksnc.org/festival-2017 or call 336-747-1471 to learn more.
More Independent Bookstores to Explore
Not all independent bookstores are members of the American Booksellers Association, but many are. Its member directory at bookweb.org lists more than 70 member booksellers in North Carolina. Find one near you, or better yet, get out and about in the state and enjoy a serendipitous discovery.
The Book Shelf
86 N. Trade Street, Tryon | tryonbookshelf.com
Buxton Village Books
47918 Hwy. 12, Buxton | buxtonvillagebooks.com
Offers a good mix of books about the Outer Banks and the latest in contemporary and southern fiction and young adult titles. The store is served by Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative, and one of the co-op’s directors, Elvin Hooper, is a popular local author for his books on Chicamacomico and Gull Island, says owner GeeGee Rosell.
City Lights Bookstore
3 East Jackson Street, Sylva | citylightsnc.com
Tucked in the heart of southern Appalachian Mountains, it features books from and about the region
The Country Bookshop
140 NW Broad Street, Southern Pines | thecountrybookshop.biz
Offers summer camps for kids of all ages
Duck’s Cottage Downtown Books
105 Sir Walter Raleigh Street, Manteo | duckscottage.com
Has a large Outer Banks and local section
752 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, Chapel Hill | flyleafbooks.com
Stocks new and used adult and children’s titles
Main Street Books
126 S. Main Street, Davidson | mainstreetbooksdavidson.com
In the old general store space, hosts Books and Bites and lots of other events, along with a youth and teen advisory board that discusses and reviews new books
2000 Fearrington Village Center, Pittsboro | fearrington.com/mcintyres-books
Includes weekly author readings and seasonal event series such as Cooks & Books in collaboration with Fearrington’s executive chef
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth Street, Durham | regulatorbookshop.com
Has a name with a history lesson. (Ask them about it!) Voted Best Bookstore by the Indy’s Best of the Triangle for seven years running
304 S. Elm Street, Greensboro | scuppernongbooks.com
Opened in 2013 and is part of the rebirth of downtown Greensboro
Read on, book lover!