SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE

City Lights Bookstore

Address: 3 East Jackson Street; Sylva, NC 28779
Phone: 828-586-9499 / 888-853-6298 (toll-free)
Owner: Chris Wilcox
Website: www.citylightsnc.com
Twitter: @citylightsnc

I am particularly fond of this store, nestled in the North Carolina mountain town of Sylva – it’s an unexpected treat in a small burg off the beaten path. City Lights has a great staff headed by a great owner, Chris Wilcox, who worked here for 12 years until his mentor Joyce Moore offered to sell it to him. “What a fantastic opportunity!” Chris says, reminding me that the store has been in the same location in historic downtown Sylva for 25 years.

Chris says he and his staff are grateful that customers don’t all like the same sort of books, although “we do sell more novels than any other type of book in general.”

Some of the novels City Lights sells again and again include “One Foot in Eden” by Ron Rash “Burning Bright” by Tracey Chevalier, “Serena” by Ron Rash, “Look Homeward, Angel” by Thomas Wolfe, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, “Mason Jars in the Flood” by Gary Carden, “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, “The Collected Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor,” “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd, “Garden Spells” by Sarah Addison Allen, “Devil Amongst the Lawyers” by Sharyn McCrumb, and “In a Dark Season” by Vicki Lane.

“Southerners love a good story, and that’s our business,” says Chris. “We sell stories, and our customers often share stories with us.” Of course, some of those stories revolve around mountainous Appalachia, so City Lights features an “Appalachian Book of the Week,” paying homage not just to Southern roots but to old regional folkways as well. Books with titles like “Moon Women” (by my dear friend Pam Duncan) and “Tales of the Porch” keep a familiar feel for local customers yet offer something a little different for people like me – and hopefully you! – who wander in for a spot of bookish community while exploring this beautiful area.

Posted September 21, 2010 at 7:24 am · comment · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: QUAIL RIDGE BOOKS & MUSIC

Quail Ridge Books & Music

Address: 3522 Wade Ave., Raleigh, NC 27607

Phone: 919-828-1588 (customers); 919-828-7912 (business)

Owner: Nancy Olson

Website: www.quailridgebooks.com

Twitter: @quailridgebooks

When Nancy Olson moved to Raleigh back in 1984, she was disappointed. She couldn’t find a truly wonderful bookstore in town. A passionate reader, Nancy found this to be completely unacceptable – and soon opened Quail Ridge Books & Music at a location near numerous colleges and universities, right off the main interstate and roads leading to Raleigh.

Walk in today and it is evident that is bookstore is Dixie through and through. Quail Ridge Books & Music has spotlighted Southern writers since they opened. That just happened to be same year that Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill opened, so they have an excellent relationship with their writers, alongside most other Southern authors. Customers clamor for fiction or nonfiction, written by a Southerner, or about the South. Favorites include Lee Smith, Reynolds Price, Angela Davis-Gardner, Kaye Gibbons, Charles Frazier and many more.

And, as the title of the store suggests, Quail Ridge isn’t just about books.  It is about music too, with a department that specializes in classical, jazz, and traditional music and presents a diverse program of free concerts. Last year, the store’s 25th anniversary party featured a harp player and bluegrass trio in the midst of shelves of glorious literature and non-fiction.

An amazing book and music store in Raleigh? That’s music to my ears!

P.S. Cannot write about this store without mentioning their show stopping bathroom decor. The walls are lined with framed photos of successful writers. (Seems like this is the moment to talk about various reading habits and multi-tasking, but I’ll refrain.)

Posted September 16, 2010 at 9:07 am · 2 comments · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: CAPITOL BOOK & NEWS

Capitol Book & News

Address: 1140 E. Fairview Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36106

Phone: 334-265-1473

Owners: Cheryl & Thomas Upchurch

Website: www.capitolbook.com

Twitter: @capitolbook

Cheryl Upchurch happened to be looking for a job when this local institution – Capitol Book & News — needed help.  When the founder was ready to retire a few years later, she and her husband Thomas were able to buy this wonderful store.

Set in a quaint, established neighborhood of Montgomery that combines homes, shops and restaurants, the location was perfect for this bookstore.  The warm old house that serves as the home for Capitol Book & News just beckons you to step inside!

Southern history and Southern literature like “The Well and the Mine,” “Hell at the Breech,” “One Foot in Eden” and “Crazy in Alabama”fly off the shelves. The also offer a great selection of books for children.

And, interestingly enough, being located in Montgomery Alabama, they sell books about the Civil Rights movement and books about the Civil War equally well!

Posted September 14, 2010 at 6:30 am · 2 comments · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: BOUND TO BE READ BOOKS

Bound To Be Read Books

Address: 481-B Flat Shoals Ave., Atlanta, GA 30316

Phone: 404-522-0877

Owner: Jeff McCord

Website: www.boundtobereadbooks.com

Twitter:  @BoundToBeRead

Jeff MCord thinks the birth of Bound To Be Read Books came out of his mid-life crisis. After seeing a friend making a go of it with a book store in Canada, he decided to stop his life on a dime and open a store of his own. That very next week he started putting together the business plan and started figuring out how a book store works.  He started buying lots of used books – lots and lots of used books, until his house was full of boxes.  When he couldn’t open my front door any more, he knew it was time to open a store.

When he looked around Atlanta, he was amazed at the lack of book stores anywhere in the Southeast quadrant of the city. East Atlanta Village was an “up and coming” commercial district when Bound To Be Read Books opened 5 years ago…and still is today. An interesting fact: The store is located right on the battlefield of one of the biggest fights in the Battle of Atlanta, so Jeff honors that with a good section of Civil War books.

With an eclectic customer base that includes hipsters, young families, and urbanites of all races, ages and genders, they also carry a wide variety of good used and new books.  They’re very inclusive and have over 50 categories, including children’s books. Jeff notes that “We have a section on sustainability that workswell for us.” Their most popular adult titles tend to be contemporary fiction and edgier titles.  (Of course, zombies have been very popular lately!) And they recently added a new graphic novels section, which has been selling like crazy.

In terms of Southern literature, Bound To Be Read Books sells tons of the classics like “Confederacy of Dunces,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and anything by Faulkner, Welty and McCullers.  “Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” is popular with the sustainability crowd.

And I must add that besides being fun, this bookstore is tremendously good to authors – including yours truly.

P.S. After featuring Park Road Books’ canine staffer Yola, it only seemed fair to showcase a photo of Bound To Be Read Books’ Public Relations Director Kona the Cat. Check her out in all of her feline glory!

Posted September 7, 2010 at 11:42 am · comment · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: FICTION ADDICTION

Fiction Addiction

Address: 1020A Woodruff Rd, Greenville, SC 29607

Phone: 864-675-0540

Owner: Jill Hendrix

Website: www.fiction-addiction.com

Owner Jill Hendrix had been working for internet startups in New York when the Internet bubble burst in 2001 and was laid off.  She has also sold her apartment at the same time, so she had an unfortunate pairing: no job and nowhere to live.

Some might have drowned in despair, but not Jill. Instead, she decided that she wanted to run her own startup and as an avid reader, a bookstore instantly came to mind – Fiction Addiction was born. The store moved to its current location just over a year ago. The previous shopping center location was losing stores right and left and this more visible, vibrant location fit the bill perfectly.

Regional fiction does very well at the store, and they have a lot of mystery and thriller readers too.  The store has also gained fans through their new author events program, Book Your Lunch, which to my mind is a perfect representation of Southern culture.

They invite authors  - like to  Kristy Dempsey, Michael Cogdil, Melinda Long, Shirley Twiss, Karen White, Ron Rash and Mindy Friddle  - to speak over lunch and get to show off  their Southern hospitality while letting our customers learn all the behind-the-scenes details (i.e. gossip) that led to the creation of their favorite books.

What can I say? Food and books – what could be better?

Posted August 30, 2010 at 8:07 am · 1 comment · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: BIENVILLE BOOKS

Bienville Books

Address: 109 Dauphin Street, Mobile, AL  36602

Phone: 251-438-2904

Owner: Russ Adams

Website: www.bienvillebooks.com

Twitter: @bienvillebooks

A lifelong love of reading and a desire to help revitalize the downtown Mobile area led Russ Adams to start Bienville Books.

The building that houses the store originally belonged to Russ’ father and another businessman. He have eventually purchased the building from the other owners and turned it into a book lover’s paradise, featuring history, classics and local/regional nonfiction. Popular books by Southern authors include “A Confederacy of Dunces,” “Alabama Moon,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “Southern Ladies and Gentlemen.” Furniture and furnishings are also for sale, as well as art by local artists.

Bienville Book’s variety of local and regional books, as well as artwork pertaining to the Mobile community, truly speak to the store’s Southern roots. They’ve also republished a rare copy of “Our Creole Carnival,” an 1890 publication on Mardi Gras in the United States. It was the first of ten annual publications by T. C. De Leon, editor of the Mobile Register and a prominent author of the day. The 40-page booklet, features six pages of illustrations of floats and tableaux from New Orleans, Mobile, Baltimore and Vicksburg, as well as gorgeous cover illustration.

In addition, making for one of the most entertaining elements of visiting Bienville Books. Russ also inherited the goodwill of a previous bookstore, The Haunted Book Shop, which was a downtown fixture for fifty years. The upstairs is named in its honor and carries on its spooky traditions.

Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:07 am · 1 comment · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: PARK ROAD BOOKS

Park Road Books

Address: 4139 Park Road, Park Road Shopping Center, Charlotte, NC 28209

Phone: 704-525-9239

Owner: Sally Brewster

Website: www.parkroadbooks.com

The staff  over at Park Roads Books has been so supportive of me and my work – hand selling Dairy Queen for years – already spreading the word about Bezellia – and I can’t wait to get there.  According to owner Sally Brewster, it’s a store you can’t help but love. In fact, she was a sales rep for a publisher and called on the previous owner of the store and it was love at first sight. She ended up working for them at Christmas for 10 years. She eventually bought it when the original owner decided to retire.

The location is a dream come true. Park Road Shopping Center is the oldest strip center in the Southeast and the gentleman that currently owns the property was the lawyer of the original owner!  Sally is happy to say that Porter Byrum is the best landlord in the world. He loves Mom & Pop stores and does all he can to encourage local business.

Fiction is the main draw for Park Road Books with children’s books being a close second. Current top selling books by Southern authors include “The Queen of Palmyra,” “The Sweet By and By,” “The Well & The Mine,” “South of Broad” and “The Help.”

A key element that keeps customers coming back for more is Park Road Book’s commitment to Southern hospitality. Sally and her team will do anything we can to help anyone out, whether it be a ride somewhere, deliver a book or help with their increasingly forgetful father. To top it off, they are also dog friendly and now dog-staffed. Yola (isn’t her picture cute!?!) has been working there since last November and she has quite a fan club of both humans and canines. She also recommends a book every month. This month is “The Little Pink Pup” by Johanna Kerby.

Posted August 23, 2010 at 8:06 am · 1 comment · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: MAPLE STREET BOOK SHOP

Maple Street Book Shop

Address: 7529 Maple Street , New Orleans, LA 70118

Phone: 504-866-4916

Manager: Gladin Scott

Website: www.maplestreetbookshop.com

Twitter: @fightthestupids

Mary Kellogg and Rhoda Norman opened Maple Street Book Shop back in 1964, celebrating their independence as women and free thinkers. From the beginning, the bookstore became a place the left wing and avant garde could depend on as a source for their books and as a meeting place. The location was ideal, near both the Tulane and Loyola University campuses in New Orleans, and Mary and Rhoda  soon found their store becoming the city’s answer to the conservative norm.

The current owner, Donna Allen purchased it from Mary and Rhoda in 2007,  joining the world of bookselling after years of teaching history at several local universities, including Loyola. She decided to continue Mary and Rhoda’s legacy with longtime customer Gladin Scott on-board as the store’s manager.

Literary fiction, children’s books and books about New Orleans are favorites among The Maple Street Book Store’s clientele, with Southern literature like “Confederacy of Dunces,”  “Keepers of the House” and “The Moviegoer” claiming Dixie fans as well.

Speaking of “The Moviegoer,” it is important to note that this legendary book store had a very special relationship with local author Walker Percy.  (I love it when authors can develop a deep connection to a bookstore that they know and cherish!)

Posted August 19, 2010 at 8:19 am · 1 comment · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: THAT BOOKSTORE IN BLYTHEVILLE

That Bookstore in Blytheville

Address: 316 West Main, Blytheville, AK 72315

Phone: 870-763-3333 / 800-844-8306 (toll-free)

Owner: Mary Gay Shipley

Website: www.tbib.com

Twitter: @marygayshipley

Thought I’d start the Southern Byways Bookstore Project all the way down in Arkansas, at That Bookstore in Blytheville, which – you guessed it! – is at the heart of the historic commercial district of Blytheville, Arkansas. Considering that Blytheville is truly a small-town, I can’t say enough about how owner Mary Gay Shipley has created such a vibrant and bustling indie, becoming a powerhouse in the book-selling world. Customers come looking for current fiction, signed books and Southern authors from John Grisham to Pat Conroy to Kathryn Stockett.

Hand-selecting a friendly staff that loves to read, alongside the store’s creaky wooden floors, rocking chairs and a real working wood stove, Mary Gay has created a welcoming refuge for book lovers.

One of the very cool things about the store is the special seating for readings and alike.  For an event, Mary Gay pulls out a collection of wooden folding chairs and every year, every author who comes to the store signs the chair for that year. I actually signed my name alongside John Grisham’s, so  people would be sure to see it!

And – as a personal aside – I must share that  it was one of her staff members, Marvel, who tweaked the title of my book from “The Proper Life of Bezellia Grove” to “The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.”  In fact, one of the main characters in my next book is named Marvel in her honor.

Secret insider’s tip: If you get a chance to pay call on the store, go around the corner afterwards to Sharecroppers for delectable chocolate meringue pie!

Posted August 17, 2010 at 8:11 am · 12 comments · Leave a Comment

THE SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT

My bags are packed.  My maps are highlighted.  And my car is gassed and ready to roll.  That’s right, I’m hitting the road again. Tomorrow, I’ll inaugurate my book tour of the Southern byways right here in Nashville, Tennessee, with the release of my second novel, “The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.”  And the very next day, I’m off and running – Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Pennsylvania (yes, I know it’s above the Mason-Dixon Line) – here I come!

Without a doubt, one of the great and unexpected joys of being published two years ago was meeting YOU – all the readers, booksellers, and bloggers – who enjoyed “Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen.”  I drove more than 18,000 miles in total introducing myself to the reading public and I believe every truck-stop employee along I-81.  But every mile was worth it, well, except for maybe about 75 of those miles in Mississippi when I’m certain I barely out ran a tornado.

After that experience, I couldn’t help but want to give a little something back to the independent booksellers down South.  So, while I’m traipsing across the Southeast and farther afield for my book tour, I’m gonna be starting a special series of blog posts profiling bookstores in Dixie.  Some I’ll be visiting in person. Others I’ve only gotten a taste of through photos, fans and alike.

I’m christening this special series of posts The Southern Byways Bookstore Project.

In the end, we’re all part of one big, wonderful book-loving family – and this is just a small way for me to celebrate being kin.  Can’t wait for the “family reunion,” hitting the road to spend some time with the people who love books as much as I do.

Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:54 am · 2 comments · Leave a Comment

Susan Gregg Gilmore