Sally sells books. No, not by the seashore. In Charlotte. Sally sells books in the strip shopping center in Charlotte. Let’s hear you say that five times fast! She has sold books there for almost two decades. And for almost two decades, Sally Brewster has been my favorite bookseller. The Charlotte Cafe has come and gone. The Manor Theater is no more. But the only indy bookstore in a city of a million people – A MILLION! – is still standing and doing a brisk business. Take THAT Jeff Bezos! (Sally actually admires what he did with the Washington Post – beyond that, don’t get her started.)
Sally says the obit of your local indy bookstore was prematurely released. She’s lived to see local bookstores come back and thrive. So what’s the secret? Turns out many readers like dealing with human beings – not bloodless algorithms. Sally brings her pup Nola to work every day. Sally looks at pictures of the grandkids. She cries at the death notices. She has a book in mind for long time customers when they stop by her shop – HER shop – Park Road Books in the Park Road Shopping Center.
I have no interest whatsoever in living in a condo atop the bougie SouthPark Mall. But I would pay really good money to live in a pup tent in the basement of Blackhawk Hardware in the middle of Park Road Shopping Center. Between the newly renovated and soon to be reopened Harris Teeter and the aforementioned proudly mismanaged independent hardware store and the access to a bookstore AND a movie theater AND a greenway that tracks Sugar Creek for miles all the way to Freedom Park and then Uptown – well it might as well be Nirvana. Top it off with an ice cream stand (RIP Va Da Vie Gelato but OK Jeni – you’re splendid enough I guess) and man-oh-man I am in hawg heaven.
But if I had to choose between living without ice cream or books, I’d reluctantly give up my frozen goodies. I pick Sally over Main Street Books in Davidson even though I live halfway between the two booksellers because I have so much history at Park Road and because I’m a loyal kind of a guy. That’s not to say I haven’t bought books on Main Street but I’m sorry – I do play favorites.
I’ll never forget Tommy Tomlinson reading his great book THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM at Park Road Books. The aisles were packed. We all held up our books and someone took a photo. I got my picture taken as Tommy signed my book. I gave him a big smooch on his bearded cheek (the cheek on his face). We went downstairs and toasted him. It was magical.
One of my fondest dreams is that someday I can read from a book I have written at Sally’s store. Jeff Bezos has not invited me to read at his store. Where would I go? To a warehouse? How could I fill that place? Would it smell like a bookstore with the aroma of fresh pages and ink? I don’t hate on Bezos. I hear he sells seven out of every ten books. I gotta deal with the devil if I’m ever gonna sell. But Jeff doesn’t know me from Adam’s off ox. And I hope Sally and her fellow indy booksellers everywhere thrive and grow. I think it’s not just good for America – I think it’s necessary for democracy. So there.
And on a personal note, Sally has greeted me for YEARS with the same question: “When is your book coming out?” Only now I have an answer for her! Should be in time for Christmas. I’d love nothing better than to stand in her aisles (or in the parking lot in a mask) and read it!
Sally Brewster talks business, books, and the civility of political discourse with an arch-conservative THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 17 on the @ManListening #Podcast