A PERSONAL TOUCH: Local businesses around Asheville, such as Dancing Bear Toys (above), play an indispensible role in driving the area’s economy and lending the city its unique ambiance. Through a combination of hands on ingenuity, creative approaches and a strong sense of community, Asheville’s specialty shops and boutiques are a testament to the viability of independent, locally-owned businesses in a world of big box chains and internet megastores. Photo by Max Hunt.

Local businesses drive Asheville vibe

Walk any downtown Asheville street and you’re likely to encounter some quirky storefronts offering unusual products. Together, these “specialty shops” or boutiques, most of them locally owned businesses, are a key component of the city’s distinctive flavor, attracting thousands of tourists each year and helping fuel the economy.

SHARED INSPIRATION: “As a white kid growing up playing guitar, I was as influenced by the music of Jimi Hendrix as Jimmy Page,” says author and musician David Gilbert. “I don’t think you can separate interesting cultural forms and innovation, which everybody can do. Everybody should have access to the music of Duke Ellington and the dance of Josephine Baker.”

Author David Gilbert challenges racial assumption­s in modern music

“The idea that black people and white people have distinct music and culture has its roots in racist thinking.”,” says author David Gilbert. It’s a concept he delves into in The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace. Gilbert holds a book launch and discussion at Malaprop’s Saturday, Nov. 14.

HISTORY MYSTERY: In Lisa Wingate's new novel The Sea Keeper’s Daughters (her 25th book in 14 years), the mixed-race Melungeon people of the Appalachian mountains and a group of oral history gathers, subsidized by government funds, are at the center of the plot.

Lisa Wingate writes about Melungeon people and Federal Writers’ Project in new novel

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters is part history and part mystery. It follows the stories of three characters: present day restaurant owner Whitney; her grandmother Ruby, who lived in the Excelsior hotel on the Outer Banks; and Ruby’s twin sister Alice, a member of the Depression-era Federal Writer’s Project, stationed in Western North Carolina. Author Lisa Wingate presents her book at Malaprop’s on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

Photo by Joe Worthem

Exploring the modern Western with bestsellin­g crime novelist Ace Atkins

New York Times bestselling author Ace Atkins is set to release the fifth book in his Quinn Colson series, The Redeemers, this month. Atkins has written 17 novels to date, and has been deemed by bestselling author Michael Connelly as “one of the best crime writers at work today.” Atkins reads and signs The Redeemers at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe on Monday, Aug. 3.