This past weekend, I traveled north to Boston to visit my daughter, celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday and EAT! Oh my, did I eat – cannolis, seafood, pasta, pizza, thai and on and on and on.And of course I popped in a few fabulous bookstores like Porter Square Books and Harvard Book Store, family owned and operated since 1932!
Now I don’t know if it was the scrumptious food, the crisp fall air, the clear blue skies, but I got to thinking that maybe when THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE comes out in paperback (date yet to be determined) that I need to climb back in my car and head north. What do you think? Do you think Northern readers would take kindly to a Southern girl like Bezellia? And what are some of your favorite indie stories north of the Mason-Dixon line? Help me out y’all. Tell me what you think. Oh, and it might not be a bad idea to include some of your favorite restaurants. After all, a girl’s gotta eat!
Page & Palette
Address: 32 South Section Street, Fairhope, AL 36532
Owner: Karin Wolff Wilson
Karin Wolff Wilson inherited more than a love of books from her paternal grandmother, she inherited the family business! Page and Palette is, get this, a third-generation-family-owned independent bookstore, founded back in 1968 by Betty Jo Wolff. Is that cool or what!
(Just so you know, Betty Jo was very well regarded in the book industry for years, and a local foundation, the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts, even named a writer-in-residence cottage after her.
Located on the beautiful eastern shore of Mobile Bay, Page & Palette is a Fairhope landmark, now serving the great grandchildren of their original customers. It truly is a gathering point for the community. Karin says it best, “We host book club functions, storytimes for kids and special live music performances. We are one of the first downtown businesses to open each day and definitely the last retail shop to close each night. Besides offering book recommendations from the classics to the latest bestsellers, we point customers to area restaurants, the famous Fairhope Pier, and the Marriott Grand Hotel in nearby Point Clear. We want to be the best example of Southern hospitality!”
And they are! I recently found my way to Fairhope and what a treat. I spent a good part of the day snuggled up on one of their comfy chairs, drinking coffee, reading and talking to locals. Believe me, the staff is like family for a road-weary author, and I can’t wait to get back down there again. Of course, an opportunity to run into summertime resident Rick Bragg would be all the prompting needed.
Bragg (or Rick as I like to call him) is not the only big name in publishing that stops by Page & Palette. The store is an author-event-driven bookstore for sure and they’re customers are delighted by the national stature of the writers who include Page & Palette on their book tours. They have hosted winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Caldecott, the Newberry and even an Oprah Book Club author.
But this is one of my favorite stories from Karin: One afternoon in October 2009, some of the staff were in the midst of explaining to some customers the details of the Pat Conroy event scheduled for the following day. They were reciting the list of conditions that the publisher had sent when the program was scheduled. Then, from behind the crowd, the author himself stepped up to the counter and said “We’re going to change the rules”. He signed hundreds of books before the event and then entertained the audience of 300 fans for an hour and fifteen minutes before meeting readers individually to personalize their books and pose for photographs.
“We want to be the “Pat Conroy” of bookstores: hardest working, long lasting & with eclectic characters!” Karin says. And I believe her.
In addition to a deep book inventory, Page and Palette offers art supplies, religious titles, Bibles, greeting cards, calendars, journals, and a fabulous coffee shop “LatteDa” with complimentary WiFi. And the best part, yes it gets better, the entire staff is very supportive of the independent bookstore cause. Karin has served as president of the Southeastern Independent Bookstore Alliance (SIBA) and her publicist and assistant, Emily Bell (Roll Tide Roll!), currently serves on its board of directors.
So head on down to Fairhope and be sure and tell everybody I said hello. (BTW, they’re only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter!)
Emoke B’Racz says “I wanted to have a place where diversity and the freedom of speech is the ruling divide. Where book sellers were supported as talented human beings and where knowing literature was appreciated and were considered a noble profession.”
She’s nurtured that dream at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina. “The magic of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the architecture of downtown Asheville, and the ability to ‘grow up’ within a city and the community that was struggling to survive was a pure invitation for giving all the energy I had,” says B’Racz. “Finally I arrived home.”
Malaprop’s is, to me, a must-visit booksore. There’s a real energy here, B’Racz and her carefully chosen and highy knowledgeable staff bring in “big name” authors, but also take care of the rest of us. Members of that great staff have become friends of mine – and also met two women at my first reading there who have become such good friends that I keep up with them every time I pass through town!
While B’Racz says Malaprop’s customers are partial to many different kinds of books, including literary fiction, poetry, cultural studies, and current events, the largest (“and most beautiful,” B’Racz notes) section in the store is devoted to Southern culture, the Regional Collection section. “We carry a large and diverse selection of southern fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The most recent tribute to Southern literature at Malaprop’s was a Read-a-thon celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. 17 regional authors read for four and a half hours to an enthusiastic crowd. It was fantastic!”
A few titles that are perennial favorites are “Serena” by Ron Rash, “Mayhem in Mayberry” by Brian Lee Knopp, “Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger” by Lee Smith (my beloved seventh-grade English teacher!), and”The Girl Who Chased the Moon” by Sarah Addison Allen. Local authors are so important to the store that ten years ago Malaprop’s commissioned a stained-glass work highlighting important Asheville authors: John Ehle, Gail Godwin, Thomas Wolfe, Elizabeth Daniels Squire and Robert Morgan. It’s a beautiful tribute to the interconnectedness of creativity and commerce.
Davis-Kidd Booksellers – Nashville, TN
In terms of the store’s history, I’m sure you’ve guessed that a “Davis” and a “Kidd” were actively involved. You guessed right. Back in 1980, Karen Davis and Thelma Kidd crossed paths and thought it would be fun to run a business together. They were ardent readers and wanted to create a bookstore that was comfortable, inclusive, and inviting. And, after twenty-five years, four relocations, seven expansions, millions of books, and countless author events Davis-Kidd Booksellers is still going strong, in a 36,000 square foot store at The Mall at Green Hills.
Their customers – me among them – agree that the store’s local interest section is by far the best in the area. It features various books on the state as well as books from local authors. In addition, Davis-Kidd has a wide array of backlist titles and of course new bestsellers, alongside more serious literary works. Southern favorites among their clientele include “Serena,” “Geronimo Rex,” “Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’ Easter,” (by my Nashville buddy Lisa Patton) and “South of Broad.”
One thing I have always admired about Davis-Kidd is that their booksellers really speak to Southern culture. They have several who are experts on Southern literature Southern art, Southern cooking etc.
In additon, the love their staff members have for each other and for books in general that really shines through to our customers. Because of them Davis-Kidd is really a happy place to be and to shop.
Garden District Book Shop
Address: 2727 Prytania St, New Orleans, LA 70130
Owner: Britton Trice
Britton Trice says “There’s nothing like owning a business you love.” He got to know the business he owns and loves from the ground up: Garden District Books opened more than 33 years ago, and Trice worked there as manager before buying into the store and then ultimately purchasing it outright. He says that Garden District is the perfect combination of a central location in New Orleans’ most beautiful residential neighborhood, and a prime tourist attraction: The book store is housed in one of the District’s loveliest examples of antebellum architecture.
Garden District Books capitalizes on this combination by offering a wide selection of books on New Orleans and Louisiana – both in-print and out-of-print, as well as offering frequent literary events for local and regional authors. Trice also makes sure to book national authors, since he says “our large selection of signed books” is a customer favorite.
Other customer favorites by Southern authors include “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole, “The Moviegoer” by Walker Percy, “The House on First Street” by Julia Reed, and “Gumbo Tales” by Sara Roshen.
Over the many years he’s been involved with Garden District Books, Trice has developed many cherished memories. “There are so many: Having Walker Percy, William Styron, and Willie Morris in the store all at once. Anne Rice’s mega-event, the one where she arrived in a closed casket. Not to mention Pat Conroy’s kindness after Hurricane Katrina. The memories go on and on…”
Fortunately, for its loyal customers, so does the history of Garden Street Books.
Barnhill’s Books * Wine * Art * Gifts
Barnhill’s is unique – which is perhaps why its web site name is “Only at Barnhill’s.” It’s also perhaps the “youngest” bookstore in the South, having opened on March 31, 2010. In a year that has seen lots of change for publishing as well as retail, the inspiration behind this new place tells its own story: A group of book lovers, wine lovers, authors, and publishers came together with the idea of creating a unique destination in the heart of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, that would specialize in local art, wine, books – but especially people.
Located in a 100 year-old former private home, the store is designed to promote a “come in and get comfortable” feeling, inviting customers to settle in on a sofa with a good book, hang out, and even taste some wine if they so choose.
So far customers are selecting books of all types and genres. Although the store has chosen to specialize in small publishers and independent authors, it also carries current best sellers. Events are largely focused on indie authors, but there are big names, too, like “Outlander” series author Diana Gabaldon. All types of books are supported by weekly author signings, and there are plenty of selections from a decidedly Southern perspective, too. The large selection of North Carolina wine is complemented by work from local artists and artisans: You can buy a case of Flint Hill Vineyards wine, a John Reidy portrait, and some regional pickles from Miss Jenny’s, all in one trip.
The owners say “Our acceptance into the community has been overwhelming. We are grateful to be a small piece in the a large tapestry of Southern culture.”
Address: 114 East Main Street, Franklin, Tennessee 37064
Owner’s: Joel & Carol Tomlin
I recently did a reading at this store and I can’t say enough good things about Joel and Carol, Landmark Bookseller’s wonderfully hospitable owners. The store itself is just as charming. Housed in a 200-year old antebellum Greek Revival building in the heart of Franklin, it comes complete with a quartet of stately columns to greet you out front. According to Joel, they were each formed from four separate giant poplar trees.
The place just oozes history. Andrew Jackson supposedly paid his troops here on the way back from the Battle of New Orleans, with the notorious John and Peggy Eaton living right across the street. The building was used as a hospital after the Battle of Franklin. It was a juke-joint in the early 1900s.
Fast-forwarding to today, the store currently offers more than 50,000 second-hand, out-of-print, and rare books as well as new books on all subjects. Their specialty, however, would best be described as “all things Southern,” both fiction and non-fiction. Due to the rich history of the area, they sell a good deal of regional history and Civil War. In regard to literature and fiction, Landmark boasts a collection of 2000 signed/first editions including most of your Southern authors.
Popular sellers with the bookstore’s avid fans include an array of Southern delights, including “Twilight” by William Gay, “Widow of the South” by Robert Hicks, “Summons to Memphis” by Peter Taylor, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, “The Civil War” by Shelby Foote, “Nashville, The Western Confederacy’s Final Gamble” by James Lee McDonough, “Nathan Bedford Forrest” by Jack Hurst and “Devil’s Dream” by Madison Smartt Bell, just to mention a few.
And, I’m proud to say that my first novel “Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen” is also among the store’s top sellers!
Address: 200 North Main Street, Belmont, NC 28012
Owner: David Bratcher
For a woman who loves to hit the road and talk books, I have found the perfect indie, Bookin’ It!, a mobile bookstore. That’s right, a bookstore on wheels. How perfect is that? Bookin’ It! is a 24-foot, air-conditioned, Nascar trailer turned bookstore, outfitted with wooden bookshelves, cozy rugs and fireplace. Yes, fireplace! OK, the fireplace is electric, but the ambiance is perfectly toasty!
But it gets even better than that. Bookin’ It! is celebrating its birthday today. Whoohoo! Blow out some candles and make a wish because three years ago today the Bookin’ It! trailer was pulled into a Main Street parking lot in Belmont, North Carolina, (its semi-permanent home) and opened its door. And the Bookin’ It! staff hasn’t stopped rolling since – traveling to birthday parties, school festivals, corporate events, and underserved communities in the state of North Carolina.
I visited Bookin’ It! this week and found president David Bratcher eager to show me his mobile store. David is mentally disabled, but at Bookin’ It, he has found his passion and his place, putting books in the hands of readers. He particularly loves to read to children, dress up in character costumes, and make balloon animals. And his devoted family is always there eager to lend a helping hand. Mom, Simone, runs the behind-the-scenes operation. Dad pulls the trailer; and big sis, Yvonne, helps with sales. David’s good friend, Renee Hill, is always there to lend a hand and always with a sparkling smile on her face.
David held several other jobs after graduating from high school, but he often felt isolated and marginalized. ”He didn’t want to be picking up trash in a parking lot. He wanted more for himself, and we wanted more for our son,” says Simone. ”David is a giver and what better thing for him to be doing than to be sharing the gift of books.”
In this tough economy, Simone believes Bookin’ It! has what it takes to make it. In fact, she believes the advantage of a mobile bookstore is, well, priceless. Bookin’ It! can go to the customer. ”In fact, we joke,” laughs Simone, “we not only go looking our customers, we run them down!.”
So if you want to visit a store unlike no other, then check out Bookin’ It, and tell David that Susan said “HI!”
Address: 127 West Main Street, Elkin, NC 28621
Owner: Cicely McCulloch
Nestled in the bustling downtown historic district of Elkin, Diana’s Bookstore offers more than books – with the aroma of gourmet coffee inspiring you to stay a while to browse, as you sip on a little comforting caffiene. Locals have said that this Main Street store is idyllic, reminding them of Meg Ryan’s sweet little bookstore in the hit movie “You’ve Got Mail.”
Owner Cicely McCulloch may not be Meg Ryan, but her love of Southern fiction combined with her Southern charm, keep locals coming back time and time again. Whether on the hunt for works by Southern authors like Mary Kay Andrews, John Hart, Patti Henry and Ann Ross, Life Is Good merchandise, the perfect greeting card or a delicious cappucino, Diana’s Bookstore has it all.
Add some of the staff’s genuine smiles, pride in small town customer service and passion for books, and you’ve got a Dixie gem on your hands.
Address: 202 Banner Hall, 4465 I-55 North, Jackson, Mississippi 39206
Phone: 601-366-7619 / 1-800-366-7619 (toll-free)
Owner: John Evans
When it comes to Lemuria’s beginnings, it all started with a situation too many of us have know all too well – unemployment. In 1975, John Evans couldn’t find a job anywhere in Jackson and ultimately decided he better figure out a way to employ himself. A passionate reader who had regularly been frustrated that books he wanted weren’t available in Jackson or elsewhere in the whole of Mississippi, he figured that opening a topnotch bookstore would be a good bet.
He opened Lemuria in a cramped converted apartment in an area known as the Quarter on Lakeland Drive. Two years later Lemuria moved to Highland Village a shopping area just north of downtown Jackson, allowing for expansion with new sections devoted to children’s books, fiction and Southern writers. Eventually, he even acquired a smaller building next door which has become the location for many of the bookstore’s fantastic author events.
With a real variety of customers coming through their doors, popular book selections are all over the map, from history and politics to cooking and travel to mysteries and poetry, not to mention Civil Rights and Southern history, as well as Southern classic and contemporary fiction. They even have a special Southern fiction section that offers writers known nationwide like John Grisham to the lesser known Mary Ward Brown of Alabama.
Lemuria’s attention to local books though, really sets them apart. This October they will be showcasing three big Mississippi books coming out: “Mississippians,” a beautiful book about famous Mississippians as well as some not so famous Mississippians who have made a difference; a stunning photography book on the “Blues in Mississippi” done by Ken Murphy; and a book by the journalist Curtis Wilkie about the recent Dicky Scruggs case, a judge bribery case that has been in the national spotlight.
This amazing bookstore will begin its 35th year this October and I have to applaud them on cultivating relationships over the years with Southern writers such as, Eudora Welty, Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Barry Gifford. All of these writers, in their own way, try to capture something crucial to understanding the South.