I've always preferred to support smaller, independent businesses because I feel like my experiences in dealing with their employees have been more personal. Although I work for a big box bookstore due to management opportunities that allow me to support myself financially (barely), I've always spent my money at independent bookstores. People always question why I don't buy this or that book at work with my 30% discount and I have no problem explaining that I choose to support small, independent bookstores for many reasons—the most important being that I want to keep them around. I love visiting bookstores when I'm out of town and always make a point to look them up and drop in. But I only fell in love with a bookstore once—when I visited Malaprop's in Asheville, North Carolina.
Before I even entered the store, I was excited to see the window displays and the sandwich sign advertising that night's reading. I instantly felt like there was a literary community in Asheville and this is where it began. Upon entering the store, I felt at home yet at the same time overwhelmed with the feel of what I'd always looked for in a bookstore yet could never put words together to express the "feel" of what I craved in my bookstore experience. On the way to the bathroom, there hung a huge bulletin board completely filled with notes, flyers, pictures, ads for roommates, upcoming theatre productions, poetry readings, acoustic nights, massage therapy, meditation and more. Never had I thought of living in North Carolina but for some reason I couldn't help but look at the "roommate wanted" ads for rent amounts and location. I just felt like this town could work for me. It felt as though I had stepped back in time to a place when things were a little simpler. You actually knew your neighbors and I already had visions of dropping in for a glass of iced tea and chatting about the latest book I'd read. It's funny how the mind wanders and it knows instantly whether a place could be home or not and begins it's dream of what that would be like.
I proceeded down the hall to find the bathroom filled with posters of classic titles and children's favorites from long ago. I thought about how I could do this to my bathroom since I now live alone and don't have to accomodate the tastes of anyone else. The aisles of books, the shelf talkers along the way, all made me feel welcome and invited me to grab the nearest stool and pull a book off of the shelf and stay awhile…unlike other stores I won't name where I feel harassed into either asking for help or getting what I need and get out.
I've been back to visit several times with friends or family (when they come visit Atlanta, it's mandatory that I drag them a few hours away to visit Malaprop's). My favorite part of the store to this day is the staff recommends shelves. Not only does each member of the staff get to recommend a title but they get to fill an entire shelf. Now that is what I call freedom. How can one pick just one title? I've never understood how to answer those types of questions, "What's your favorite book or movie?" It's impossible for me to narrow that down because there are different favorites for different times in my life. The only way to get a true picture of a person is to see the diversity of their tastes and how they all fit together or not. I also find it fun that if one of the titles is one of my favorites, I'm running to get another title they've read that I haven't to see if I might discover a jewel I wouldn't have otherwise.
I left that first trip to Malaprop's with a bittersweet feeling. I knew I would probably never find another bookstore like it and it was three hours away. I was also extremely grateful to have found it and discovered a place I could introduce proudly to my friends and family and surprisingly, I'm not alone in my love of Malaprop's as on numerous occasions after mentioning it, I see the other person's eyes light up as they begin to tell me their Malaprop's experience.
Carla Nikol Wilson
Writer, Reader, Bookseller & Dreamer