The Country Bookshop Celebrates Anniversary
It was 1953. Oh, what a year that was.
Watson and Crick revealed the structure of DNA. Jonas Salk announced his polio vaccine. Edmund Hillary climbed Mt. Everest. Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. The Korean War ended. The IRS was formed.
And in February 1953, in Southern Pines, population 4,272, Mrs. Margaret Olmstead Rounds and Miss Lockie Parker announced the opening of their new bookstore at the corner of Bennett and West Pennsylvania.
They called it The Country Bookshop.
"People are already finding their way to The Country Bookshop before its official opening," read the article in The Pilot, "enjoying the gracious, friendly reception they meet there, the good talk of books and other interesting things, the browsing, whether or not they buy."
For 57 years, The Country Bookshop has continued that time-honored tradition of offering "good books, good staff and good service" to the people of the Sandhills. And in that time, it has become an important part of the fabric of the community.
It all began in the early 1950s, when Margaret Rounds, a former children's librarian, and her husband, legendary author and illustrator Glen Rounds, established an informal bookselling business out of their home in Pinebluff, offering "Children's Books and Prompt Order Service On All Books." People would drop over, buy or order books, then stay for a cup of tea.
In January 1953, Lockie Parker, the retired founder and editor of the children's magazine "Story Parade," became Margaret Rounds' partner in their new venture. They set up shop at 210 W. Pennsylvania (where El Vaquero now stands). Three years later, they moved their bookstore into the cottage-like building across the street at 190 W. Pennsylvania (the site of the now-closed All Things Sacred).
When Margaret Rounds retired in 1956, several other women joined Lockie Parker, including Katharine Boyd, owner of The Pilot and widow of author James Boyd, as a silent partner. "People still talk about the shop's 'cottage days,'" Mrs. Boyd wrote. "How books were piled from floor to ceiling and you had to wend your way around them, creating a charming maze of literature."
In 1966, Mary Wilson "Peg" Benedict, a descendant of the New York Holt Publishing family, and her husband, Cadwallader "Cad" Benedict, an associate editor at The Pilot, bought the bookshop. Plagued by too many books in too little space, the Benedicts moved their store to 124 NW Broad (where Monkees is now) in October 1982, doubling the size of the shop. The sign, featuring "high-stepping Ol' Boomer, the Book Hound," painted for them by Glen Rounds, now hangs inside the bookstore's current location at 140 NW Broad.
Two years later, the Benedicts retired and sold what had become "a Southern Pines landmark" to Joan and James Scott, and a new chapter for The Country Bookshop began.
"My mother loved books, and was determined to own her own bookstore," says Amy Scott, Joan's daughter.
Scott quit her job as a congressional aid in Washington, D.C, and started her apprenticeship as a bookseller and then manager of the historic Francis Scott Key Bookstore (now closed) in Georgetown. When she saw the ad for The Country Bookshop, Scott's long-held dream of owning a bookstore was realized.
"The shop has gained a reputation throughout the Carolinas as having the most complete stock of quality books for children," Scott said, "and we intend to keep it up."
By 1991, the bookstore had again outgrown its space, so Joan moved it into the renovated building next door (the former Pope's Five and Dime), where it is still located today. The shop retained the high pressed tin ceilings, ceiling fans and creaky maple hardwood floors of the original early 20th century building.
"Some customers voiced fears that the new store would lack the intimacy and charm of the old," Scott said, "but they have been surprised by the cozy nooks complete with green canvas chairs for browsers."
Despite the national economic downturn in 2002, when the Dow lost 27 percent of its value, Scott expanded the shop into the space next door, again doubling its size to 2,700 square feet.
Under Scott's leadership, The Country Bookshop quickly became the commercial hub of the community and one of the most successful independent bookstores in the South, according to Bookselling This Week.
Dave Kliegman, a Penguin Publisher sales rep, said The Country Bookshop was in the "top echelon" of the 75 independent bookstores he called on. It also became, and continues to be, a "model citizen" with its generous financial support of a variety of school and community activities and programs.
In March 2006, Bobbie Bicket bought The Country Bookshop and brought it into the 21st century with new computer systems and equipment, a website featuring 24-hour online shopping, customer loyalty programs, and social media like e-mails and Facebook. "But the greatest asset of the shop," she says, "is the employees. They provide customer service beyond compare."
But will that be enough for The Country Bookshop to avoid the fate of the 200 to 300 independent bookstores that closed each year during the last decade?
In this depressed economic climate, with pressure from aggressive pricing by on-line booksellers, and technology changing the way people read, what will it take for the "Best Book Store in Moore County" to survive another 57 years? Or 10? Or, for that matter, even one? And what will be lost to the community if it doesn't?
Angie Tally, who was a teacher and counselor for more than a decade, is an expert in children's literature and has been the manager of the children's section for eight years.
"If I can get just one book into a child's hands, it will be the first of many," she say. "And if I can bring authors to schools to share their books and inspire kids to read, I've done my job."
But, she adds, "I worry about the future of independent bookstores. I worry that if people continue to support big box or Internet giant corporations rather than small shops, young readers will forever lose the opportunity to experience the joy of sitting on a wood floor in their favorite section of the bookstore, thumbing through the pages of an interesting new book.
"I worry that those obscure titles by unknown authors that booksellers discover will remain in obscurity and only authors whose name has already become a commodity will make appearances on the bestseller list."
"I have waited on customers from out of town, who love our shop because they find books to read they wouldn't find in a big box store," says Beth Carpenter, who works with the shop's 70 registered bookclubs. "One customer from Pennsylvania comes every year and leaves with no fewer than 10 books she's never seen where she shops at home.
"Everyone says how important the bookshop is to downtown Southern Pines, and I agree with them. But for our shop to continue, customers need to speak with their actions in addition to their words. Independent bookshops have a future as long as customers continue buying from them."
"It's frustrating," admits Bonnie Johnson, a public school and university librarian for 17 years before joining the bookshop staff in 2004 and becoming manager in 2006. "Each of us spends a lot of quality time talking to individual customers about what they like to read and then offering suggestions. It's what we love most!
"But then, when a customer says they're going to order the books on Amazon, it really is heart-breaking. We provide a service that has value. We just have to figure out how to help customers understand that."
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