Goin' Farther South
"Do you do book shows," I asked, "local or ABA or anything?" Mary noted that, "There are not any close by but sometimes we go to SIBA (Southeastern Independent Booksellers Assn), and we have been to Atlanta a couple of times. We don't go too often as it's hard to get away from the store, it's expensive to travel and stay in hotels, but when we do go, we don't go to sell books, we go to learn about upcoming new books. We sell at library conventions and do well with that."
I asked my standard question about the future of the book biz: "Someone came into the store the other day," Mary answered, "and told me that I was a dinosaur because people are downloading their books off the internet today. I know there are other people in the world who don't want to sit at a computer all day. I can't do that with an article, much less a book. I have to sit down with a book, relax, and turn the pages, then put it down and pick it up again later."
She agreed with me that there would always be folks like us who would rather go into a store and check out the new stuff and the covers. Donna said also that, "Lots of times it takes customers longer to order books online than it does for us to get them for them. You know, hard to find books."
Mary said, "We are not under anyone's warehouse, like Bookland or Books-A-Million (two large chain retail stores in the Southeast). Those stores don't get to order any of their own books, the warehouse just sends them books they think they need and they can only get them shipped on certain days. We can order on Sunday and get them by Wednesday. I think that's pretty good."
I asked Mary for a pearl of wisdom for us independents: "Hang in there and keep reading, keep pushing those books, get the kids to read." Donna agreed; "You have to get the children reading."
We wished Mary and Donna the best of luck with their move and off we went to Memphis, Tennessee. We went to the famous Peabody Hotel for a pretty good tapas dinner and meandered around a bit before we returned to our own, somewhat more modest accommodations. I asked friends in Memphis which bookstore they liked best. No question, they both said, Burke's. We liked it too!
Corey and Cheryl Mesler were both at the store. Burke's Bookstore in Memphis had been in continuous ownership by three generations of Burkes from 1865 until 1970. "My wife and I bought the store in 2000," said Corey, "we are the third owners since the Burkes sold it."
Corey told us that they do a lot of internet and they are one of about three bookstores in town. I told the Meslers that of all the stores in town, they were the ones recommended most highly. Burke's is moving also, to another area of town called the Cooper-Young District, where there is much higher foot traffic. It is one of those small, charming areas in the middle of a big city where there is lots of gentrification going on and where there are lots of interesting stores.