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Gather, sip and read…The case for a local “Cheers factor” bookstore

With so much attention focused on all things local these days, we need to start a campaign for a locally-owned bookstore in downtown Columbia.

While Columbia has a good variety of specialty, used, religious and chain bookstores, I’m hankering for a place to find best sellers alongside home-grown poetry collections, quirky humor shelved with local history.

This bookstore would be locally-owned with a “Cheers factor” where everybody knows your name, your reading preferences and your coffee choice. It would cater to local people who love books of all types regardless of whether it’s writing them, reading them or talking about them.

Authors could give informal talks about their work. Book clubs could meet. Aspiring writers could gather. Musicians could have jam sessions. Readers could sit and read while sipping tea and nibbling on a cookie. Kids could enjoy story time.

I think back to the days of the Happy Bookseller and realize its owners were probably just ahead of their time with their approach. They understood the “Cheers factor”…friendly, knowledgeable book-lovers offering a place to gather, sip and read.

In a world today where anything can be delivered with a few taps on a keyboard, that “Cheers factor” of a local independent bookstore is missing in downtown Columbia right now.

A visit to Parnassus Books in Nashville in December (owned by author Ann Patchett) and a recent quick stop in the Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg reminded me why independent bookstores can be such a sacred community space. I’m always drawn to these locally-owned stores when I travel because they offer such a unique snapshot of the city I’m visiting…and they give me an excuse to buy a hardback book.

The day I stopped in the Hub City Bookshop, I was itching to buy a hardback.

I rarely buy hardbacks anymore preferring to read on my Kindle because I can travel with several books always at my fingertips. But if I do buy a hardback, I buy it only from a local bookseller. And frequently, I’ve already read the electronic version of any hardback I buy.

I was raised to respect a book, not mark in it or turn down pages. But now, the biggest compliment I can pay a book is to buy the hardback so I can highlight favorite passages and “turns of words,” dog-ear the pages, and make notes about ideas that inspire my own writing. I’ve got to believe the writer would find that gratifying and not disrespectful.

Liz Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, is the newest on my Kindle. I wasn’t five pages in before I realized I’d made a mistake in buying the electronic version. I needed the hardback so I could scribble and make notes in it. So when I spotted the Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, I quickly ducked in to buy the hardback.

The woman working in the store made a comment about how she’d liked Big Magic, and I told her about my rule of buying hardbacks only at a locally owner bookstore. She smiled. I told her I was buying the hardback after already buying the Kindle version so I could mark up the book and turn down pages. She smiled.

Ten minutes later I walked out of the store with my new hardback in hand and a huge smile on my face thinking, “Now that’s why I love a local bookstore.”

In those short few minutes, the woman in the store and I connected over other shared favorite authors like Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed, Anna Quindlen and Ann Patchett. I shared my love of Brene Brown’s books and Mary Oliver’s poetry with her, and she gave me a few suggestions too.

Only at a local bookstore.

Amazon can deliver a lot of things, but it can’t deliver that “Cheers factor.”

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