Last week it was my first morning opening up the used book store in downtown Bryson City:
Wake up lovely books….
The large room was silent. I hit the light switches and the lights blinked and flickered a few times before turning on. Fluorescent lights always remind me of the book Langoliers by Stephen King, when the world is catching up to time and waking up. The buzz is the first thing that’s noticed.
I rolled out the book cart, which used to be the most dangerous job at the bookstore because it is extremely heavy and the grade at the front door is not very forgiving. But this was a new book cart, the old one (with the wheel that like to fall off and dump the books alongside Everett Street) has been demoted to the back of the store.
And then I turned the “Closed” signs to “Open” at 10am. Open for business.
I sat there most of the day wondering what it used to be like. The bookstore used to be part of the old Bennett drugstore, one half of it to be exact. The hallway in the center has been walled off making it now two spaces.
Bennett’s Drug Store dates back all the way to 1905 and operated up until 1990 in the same family. A big red Coca-Cola drink cooler used to block the door of the soda fountain so that you had to enter through the drug store entrance. Early marketing genius.
You can see the arch of the soda fountain in the back right of this old photo, tucked behind the first four sets of shelving: (click on the photo to enlarge)
(I cannot find a source for this old photo…anyone know?)
“The antique marble soda fountain remains from an earlier time when the store was part of the old Bennett’s Drug Store. The fountain has a marble topped counter from Italy with six stools; the lighted back bar with stained glass murals and marble columns is also from Italy.” –Postcards from the Smokies
I would just love to know how a soda fountain from Italy ended up in a Bryson City drugstore.
Donna, my friend and a cook at the inn, used to flip burgers at the soda shop years ago. More than one person has told me about the peanut butter milk shakes. I drool. Teresa, the manager of the book store, has told me what history she knows of every building surrounding the place.
Last Thursday was a typical day. It was cool so I left the front door open and customers drifted in and out. I ate a Krispy Kreme donut and drank a fountain diet coke from the Hot Spot. When the book store was quiet I read through a book of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and a book of letters from the Carpathia regarding the Titanic. I ended up buying the Titanic book for $4.00. I thought my mom would like it too. Throughout the morning I met customers from Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Charleston, SC. I had a long conversation about midwives and Amish communities with a woman I’d met at the Hemlock Inn a few days prior. Three people dropped off book donations. One had two boxes of encyclopedias which the bookstore doesn’t take in anymore because there just isn’t room. And I guess no one wants encyclopedias these days. I took the encyclopedia donations. I’ll figure out what to do with them at some point. I just didn’t want them to end up in a dump somewhere. I love encyclopedias. There must be a huge encyclopedia retirement home somewhere right? At one point during the morning I could hear Ivan, the owner of the Calby’s Antiques (the other half of the original drug store), playing the pipe organ next door. A customer and I both had our ears to the wall listening.
I probably shouldn’t tell you about the scary trap door in the floor that supposedly leads to the basement of the bookstore. I bet there’s some really old stuff down there. Or maybe just a secret racket ball court? (you have no idea what I’m talking about unless you’ve seen the movie Door in the Floor with Jeff Bridges). The trap door used to have a lock on it at some point, which makes it even more mysterious.
I probably shouldn’t tell you this either, but the first day I worked the bookstore by myself and closed it…I accidentally took the cash register key home with me. I’m going to get fired from my first retail job, I thought, even though I work for free. I went really early the next morning to drop the key back off so it would be like nothing happened, and thought for sure I wouldn’t see anyone. As I got to the back door, and started to unlock it…I heard someone yell “Hey there Ashley!” It turns out the old mayor (not old like old, but old like ex) likes to wash his deck at 7:45am. For 5 seconds I pretended to be invisible. Then I turned and waved like a boss: “Hey, yeah, um, just doing some super-important-official-8am-used-book-store-business!”
And a few weeks ago, to shake things up a bit I took my 1954 Hermes Rocket typewriter (the one featured in my Dear Friend letters) and set it on the counter. I put a piece of paper in it and typed:
leave me (the typewriter) a message….
Then I even typed a fake message to get things started:
And no one would type on it.
So I left another fake message:
is typing writing?
Granted it was a slow day, but I couldn’t convince one single person to leave a message. It’s like they were scared of a typewriter. Or me. But they did buy books, so maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe it was the typewriter. I’ll try again sometime soon. Hopefully I get a few brave customers. And my first fake message will be:
BE BRAVE AND TYPE.
P.S. I was invited to the volunteer appreciation dinner next week….so I’m still employed at my free job.
Friends of the Marianna Black Library Used Book Store
32 Everett St, Bryson City, NC 28713
Raises money to help with the rising costs of Free Library Services in Bryson City, North Carolina.
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed on Sunday
More things to do in Bryson City, NC.