Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

A Bookstore Phoenix?

The Booksellers at Laurelwood is closing, but hopes are high that another store will rise from its ashes

For bookstores, the 2016 shopping season ended on a strong note, according to industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, and last week should have brought a welcome post-holiday calm. But in Memphis things were far from serene: after thirty-two years in business, The Booksellers at Laurelwood announced that it was closing. “Unfortunately, the store size and rent are too much for us to handle combined with slight decline in sales over the last few years,” wrote store owner Neil Van Uum in a press release on Wednesday. “The numbers just don’t work.”

Van Uum wasn’t messing around: the store’s liquidation sale began on Friday.

But readers in Memphis may be forgiven for hoping the disaster can still be reversed. This store, which began as the Memphis outpost of Nashville-based Davis-Kidd Booksellers, has already survived the bankruptcy of its parent company once before, and many in the Memphis literary community are hoping for a similar last-minute reprieve—or for another bookstore to spring up in the same neighborhood, with The Booksellers’ expert staff intact. An online petition to keep the store open has already been signed by nearly 2,000 people. “Will someone be Memphis’ Ann Patchett?” asked The Commercial Appeal’s Chris Herrington.

Cheryl Mesler, co-owner of Burke’s Book Store, took the unusual step of emailing her own customers to urge them to support the rival store: “Memphis, you CANNOT let this wonderful institution go away,” she wrote, noting that The Booksellers at Laurelwood “employs some of the best booksellers in the world” and is the primary location for author events in Memphis. “There is much to be lost if this disappears,” she wrote.

Van Uum is eager to help in the effort to transmute the spirit of The Booksellers to a new store in a new location: “I’ll sit down with anybody who wants to talk about keeping a bookstore,” he told The Commercial Appeal the day he announced the store’s closing.

This story is still unfolding, and Chapter 16’s Peggy Burch is in Memphis pursuing all developments. We will have her full report as soon as the news is a bit clearer. Please stay tuned.

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