Intrepid former Algonquin intern David Bradley and his trusty sidekick, Lucky the Leprechaun, hit the road last summer for a tour of (almost all) the coolest, hippest, greatest indie bookstores in the United States. And just in time for the start of Summer 2014, we have the final stop on The Lucky Tour…
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Two months, forty-four bookstores, thirty-four stops, thirteen thousand miles, four oil changes, and one broken car lock. It’s been quite a journey—one I won’t be forgetting anytime soon—but it was time to be home. I saw many things on my cross-country tour: a horse running down a highway, the inside of a cave, a tank being transported across Texas, elk sleeping on a beach, a Portland highway on fire, a book thief running out of a store. The list could go on and on. But, without doubt, my favorite part of this trip has been the independent bookstores. Hearing of the severe decline of independents in recent years had slowly dragged my spirits into the mud. It seemed there was no hope for these unique, handsome stores and I worried that I might, someday soon, be forced to order exclusively online—never again to converse with a bookseller or get a recommendation beyond the bestseller list.
To my surprise, and great delight, this trip has proved all that wrong. Things have been difficult, but these stores aren’t bowing out quietly to a cold, faceless future. There are still plentiful reserves of energy, innovation, and desire in independents, and while they need our support to survive they are willing to go all-out to earn it. Each store I went to was involved in the community (via author events, community gatherings, writing classes, book clubs, or supporting other local businesses) and each store was willing to adapt to its ever-evolving landscape (by adjusting selection, adding used inventory, supporting comic books, graphic novels, and magazines, and even pouring a drink or two for customers). There aren’t as many independent bookstores as there used to be, but the ones that are here are remarkably inspirational.
The grand finale to The Lucky Tour comes in Charlotte. I grew up in a small suburb south of Charlotte called Matthews. My hometown has a wonderful library, loads of brilliant and kind people, but no independent bookstore to speak of. It’s just one flaw, but it’s rather glaring and it has, on more than one occasion, sent me scouring the surrounding area for a store I can connect with. My search was largely unsuccessful and I had more or less resigned myself to the local Barnes & Noble and used bookstore. Then, one day, I found Park Road Books. A slim store with books adorning nearly every surface (minus a glorious central square that persuasively invites reading), Park Road Books is that final jewel in the crown of The Queen City. Plump with selection, knowledge, and glee, this bookstore can give you all the books you want and recommend the best read to fit your mood. Park Road Books is voted Charlotte’s Best Bookstore every single year, and it will only take a quick visit (and a brief meeting with the sweetest bookstore dog around, Yola) for you to see why.
Owner Sally Brewster sat down and answered our final Algonquin Questionnaire.
How did you come to the name Park Road Books?
The store used to be a franchise of the Little Professor stores that were everywhere going back thirty years or so. It was still a part of that franchise when I bought the store, but the organization was very loose at this point and we stopped participating shortly after that. After the agreement ran out, we needed a new name and came to Park Road Books because it was straightforward and served as a solid identifier of where we are and the community that we serve.
What is the rarest book in the store?
It’s funny that you’d ask that, because I just found out a couple weeks ago that I have a signed first edition of the original Twilight book. It was hidden in our storage area for years and I had pretty much forgotten about it until I was doing a thorough cleaning.
We have a cute stuffed George hippopotamus (from the George and Martha book series) that we’ve grown very fond of. It’s a treasured item in our store, and I have a feeling that Lucky and George will become fast friends.
What is your favorite Algonquin book and your favorite book from the summer?
I was so glad to see Jill McCorkle come out with a new book this [past] summer and it did not disappoint. Life After Life has so many great story lines in it, it just works itself right into hand-selling. This summer I’ve actually fallen in love with a title from Milkweed Editions in Minnesota. The book is Jewelweed by David Rhodes, and it’s a tale set in a small Wisconsin town that has shades of Steinbeck with the meticulous history of Michener.
Because our store is a little skinny and long, the area around the front counter where the space opens up always becomes a gathering spot. It’s where the staff is most of the time and it’s the best place to see the whole store from.
What is the strangest thing that has happened at Park Road Books?
We’ve actually done two author signings by flashlight now. In December of 2002 there was a big ice storm that knocked out power at the store for over a week. It happened when one of our authors was on his flight down to Charlotte, so we couldn’t contact him to reschedule. Instead, we decided to tough it out with candles and flashlights, and we still had a pretty good crowd come out. The second time was on Memorial Day [in 2013] when a lightning bolt hit the transformer for the entire complex. Again we went with our flashlights and again we ended up with a great turnout and a good story, too.