Five years of Blue Ridge Books

Anniversary celebration starts Friday
By Stina Sieg | Jul 09, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg Jo Gilley, left, and Allison Best are Blue Ridge Books' fifth year in business. Starting Friday, the co-owners are hosting three days of special deals, music and book signings.

These days, when a couple makes it to five years, it’s a real accomplishment. When a business makes it that long, it’s a real surprise.

And when that business is a bookstore, it’s really time to party.

Beginning this Friday, Blue Ridge Books is celebrating its fifth year in the community with three days of music, book signings and special deals. Like all business anniversaries, this one is mostly a light-hearted excuse to bring customers together, but owners Allison Best and Jo Gilley know it’s also more than that. The multi-day jubilee is a testament to their business’ ability to survive — even as the economy and publishing industry have taken an unprecedented nosedive. The magic of this isn’t lost on the owners, who’ve had the place about two and a half years.

“I just feel real pleased that we still have a community that can support literature,” Best said.

It says something about Waynesville, she added, that it has an independent bookstore, as many little towns don’t any more. In a world taken over by e-books, online shopping and giant bookstore chains, it’s easy to imagine Blue Ridge getting swallowed up. But it hasn’t.

Gilley, like Best, knows there can only be one thing behind this. It’s the community, of course. As she put it, five years of business “just means people like us.”

“They really love to share what they’ve been reading, and they really love to hear what we as a staff like,” she said, explaining the kind of exchanges she has daily.

An admitted “dinosaur” when it comes to technology, she doesn’t know anything about e-readers or other so-called advances in the book industry. What she does know is how much people enjoy having a space where they can come together. More than just a store, Blue Ridge is a meeting place, which hosts a continuous calendar of events, from book signings to children’s story times to themed parties. In the past, they’ve hosted literary get-togethers for fans of everything from Dr. Seuss to “Star Wars.”

For Blue Ridge, and most small-town stores, it’s a blurry line between business and community outreach. Gilley can see how much of a difference that makes to her customers.

“I just love it when people tell us how much they enjoy the bookstore,” she said. “That makes my day, every day.”

Count Maggie Valley author Kathryn Magendie as one of many keeping Gilley’s days good. Magendie, who recently published the last novel in her “Graces” trilogy, has always been touched by the amount of support Blue Ridge has given her. In addition to carrying her books, the store has hosted numerous book signings for her and generally given her a place where she can connect with her readers.

“They’re just so author-friendly. They love their authors,” Magendie said. “I just adore our local bookstore.”

And so, she’s happy to help celebrate it. At 3 p.m. this Sunday, she’ll be one of three authors reading from their newest books. Magendie will read from “Family Graces,” while Kimberly Brock will offer insight into “The River Witch,” and Erika Marks will discuss her novel, “Little Gale Gumbo.” The trio will be flanked by downhome musical duo Grits and Soul.

This mix of authors and musicians makes sense to Magendie, who sees Blue Ridge’s role as being much larger than a place to simply buy a cup of coffee or copy of The New York Times.

“I’ve always said bookstores are the backbone of the community,” she said.

Local musician Chris Minick knows just what she’s talking about. The Waynesville singer-songwriter has been a fixture at Blue Ridge for years, often playing in the store’s listening room adjacent to its walls of books. There, for more than a year, Minick also hosted an open mic night, sponsored by the Haywood County Arts Council.

He explained that Blue Ridge is a “lot more” than a bookstore — and he loves that.

“It’s just a hub of activity,” he said, mentioning many of the various community events he’s been to or been part of since Blue Ridge opened its doors.

This Saturday night, he’ll do one more, when the Chris Minick Trio offers up some gentle tunes from 6:30 to 8 p.m. In addition to Minick’s guitar, expect to hear Greg Kidd’s bass and Lee Kram’s drums. Anyone who’s spent much time at the store has surely already heard all these guys before.

Blue Ridge is “a real comfortable space for people to gather in,” Minick said.
That’s the kind of glowing report that lets Best and Gilley know that the atmosphere they’ve created, and are continually creating, means something.
The point isn’t just to sell books, Best stressed, but for Blue Ridge “to be what the community needs it to be.”

Gilley agrees, explaining that their customers are really the ones who make the store what it is.

“I just want it to be somewhere that they look forward to going to,” she said, before pausing to find the right words. “A place that makes people happy.”

Blue Ridge Books is hosting its anniversary celebration this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 13 to 15. In honor of opening on Friday the 13th back in 2007, the store will be offering 13-percent off books. The Chris Minick Trio will perform at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Blue Ridge will host authors Kathryn Magendie, Kimberly Brock and Erika Marks, with music by Grits and Soul. For more info, call the store, located at 152 S. Main St. in Waynesville, at 456-6000 or visit www.blueridgebooksnc.com.

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