by Wendy Welch with Walter Davis and Kathy Johnson| September 16, 2019
Independent bookstores serve important roles in Appalachia: economic development, showcasing regional talent, and offering intellectual watering hole spaces, to name a few.
Bookstores provide excellent showcases for regional authors. Wild Fig Books and Coffee in Lexington is the only black-owned bookstore in Kentucky. Genia McKee writes of Wild Fig: “Lexington is a hotbed of Affrilachian writers, Appalachian activists, … [the store hosts] community events, …community drum circles, Drag Queen Story time for kids, homemade pop tarts,… cooperatively-owned and worker-owned radical bookstore, coffee shop, and community event space … [It’s a place where] community members find their voice and collective vision.”
The Book Eddy used bookstore in Knoxville is an example of cooperation between indie retailers. Adjoining an antique store, it’s also next door to a bakery. You can wander through all three before settling down in the bakery, rolls and coffee in hand, to read the radical history books just purchased at the Book Eddy. Southland Books & Café in Maryville, Tenn., is just what it sounds like, bookstore and café in one. Check out the new t-shirt on their Facebook page, “Read Books, Drink Coffee, Fight Nazis.” All embody “shop local” in the best possible way.
And bookstores provide respite, rest, and ideas. Wendy Welch wrote in her memoir The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap (St Martin’s Press) that “Bookshops are that elusive third place, neither home nor work, where you can browse, breathe easy, talk if you want to, be silent if you don’t. Bookstores are the watering holes for misfits and activists, intellectuals outside academia who feel their voice is stymied, and they make the space for telling our own stories. The best stories in our shop weren’t found in books; they were in the customers. We never regretted the space devoted to armchairs. People would plunk down in them and browse, and their breathing would slow down. Or they’d launch into tales of such resilience, resistance, courage that we were sometimes moved to tears.”
In order to foster an increase of community support for independent bookstores, and to encourage you to take your place in the dialogues and discussions that take place in them, ACF is compiling an online list. If you know independent bookstores in Central Appalachia that should be included, we will add them online. Please visit [LINK #1] to view our current list and help us add to it.
But if you want to know where independent bookstores are in your area, visit Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) on Facebook or their website (www.sibaweb.com). Other regions have similar IBA organizations; enjoy the Google search. Keep in mind that some smaller bookstores, particularly those focused on used books, may not register with SIBA – hence, ACF’s interest in compiling a more regionally focused list. You might also enjoy cruising the www.bookexpoamerica.com, which is national and more likely to focus on urban shops.
It’s a big book world out there. Explore it with glee!