For sale: Downtown book store, good condition

The Reader’s Corner, a much-loved used-book store on Montford Avenue in Asheville, has closed its doors. Its owners are looking to sell.

Gillian Coats attended Warren Wilson College and worked at Downtown Books & News before deciding to try her hand at running her own strore. Her parents, who have owned and operated Reader’s Corner in Raleigh for years, went into business with her, and the store was born at 31 Montford Ave. Also known as the preferred hang-out of Crumpet the cat, the business closed its doors last weekend.

In a recent interview, Coats said she “really loved running the store,” but the demands began taking a toll. “To make a used-book store really successful in this day and age, you have to sell books online.  You have to market yourself and brand yourself. You have to have coffee and events and snacks. It wasn’t something I, as a small-business person, had the time to do.”

Coats also fell in love with another medium — radio and audio production. She helped start Asheville’s low-power FM station, WPVM, and works on podcast production through New Mediacast Productions in Asheville.

Despite the power and allure of all things online, Coats adamantly maintains that local businesses hold the real power of community.

“I think in this era where everybody is heading toward the Internet, we shouldn’t forget the businesses that exist are about community. Not the virtual community, but the people that live next door to you and down the street, and a book store is an important part of that,” Coats said.

Coats leased the building housing the Reader’s Corner, which has about 20,000 used books, CDs and records, as well as DVDs and audio books. Anyone interested in taking over the store should contact Irv Coats at (919) 828-7024.

Coats said she hopes the book store will remain, and she said there’s one other bonus to owning your own business.

“Just from owning a small business in Asheville, you can become a minor celebrity.”

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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25 thoughts on “For sale: Downtown book store, good condition

  1. William P Miller

    Well the fact is this.t don’t read like they used to. And those that do, go to Malaprop’s and Barnes & Noble. Being out in Montford is just not a good location. People should have a professional marketing study done before sinking their money into any small business. I do wish the owners luck.

  2. well, try running a bookstore out in Alexander, that’s even further than Montford, but I would not trade it for the world. Luckily, we sell our books nationally via the big chains, Amazon, etc. But, yes, people do not read nearly as much as they used to. After 30 years in the publishing and writing business, I see a major change.

  3. [b]Being out in Montford is just not a good location. People should have a professional marketing study done before sinking their money into any small business.[/b]

    I think it did work when it started, but times have changed.

    I can’t remember when the The Reader’s Corner opened — I’m thinking 1998 or so — but it seems like it has had quite a longevity considering its location. For a few years there in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that pocket of Montford was a regular stop for a lot of folks, including me. This was thanks in no small part to Viva Europa and Sweet Heaven, both of which have since closed.

    It was really a nice outing — you could eat lunch, browse for books and finish it all off with an ice cream.

    But being somewhat isolated, and with what I’d guess is a rapidly growing overhead and an increasingly competitive market (I buy most of my used books from Amazon, for instance), I’m not surprised to hear that the location isn’t working anymore.

  4. travelah

    Ralph,
    It is a shame to see these trends developing. When we as a cultural people stop reading in favor of the quick sound bite or blog paragraph, we are losing a critical part of our social fabric. Personally, I cannot pass up a bookstore that has an inviting presence. Perhaps if the bookstore in question relocated closer to browsing of people, it might make a better go of it. In any event, it is hard to make the margins work on a small bookstore.

  5. thanks, Travelah… I cannot speak for Gillian but in my case I chose 30 years ago to invent my own job so I could stay here in my beloved mountains. So I established a publishing company on the old tobacco farm I grew up on. The world comes to me (or at least that part of it I want to) and I’ve made a very nice living. No WAY do I want to move into downtown Asheville. Money is not everything. ;-)

  6. Ladybug Girl

    It’s inevitable when any business closes, especially a small one, that the armchair quarterbacks will chime in on what the owners coulda or shoulda done differently. Of course those of us commenting are usually unaware of what the actual circumstances and resources of the people involved may have been, what may have gone on other than the lousy economy (as if that isn’t enough) to make the business outlook change dramatically from when they started.

    But having created something like this that contributed to the community in a positive way is a big accomplishment, even if it didn’t last forever. Let’s hope people don’t get scared to take chances and keep trying, or we really will be throwing up our hands and letting Amazon and Wal-Mart dictate what we read.

  7. I agree with all except Wal-Mart being a force in determining what we read. They’re not. Amazon, of course, is the big dog. When I first started publishing, Ingram controlled the market (they still are the largest bookstore distributor). If you were not in Ingram, you were not selling books. Now it’s Amazon. If you’re not on Amazon, you’re in trouble. Luckily we are… and I see the day when we publishers stop bothering trying to sell books to bookstores and just reply on online sales. … it’s the way the market is.

  8. travelah

    Ralph, I think you are right on target there. This is a large change in logistical distribution. The big “behind the scenes” players have always been there only to be replaced today with the new “on-line” distributor. Combine that with the giant bookstores (Barnes & Noble in particular which I like)and the entire market has permanently changed (good or bad).

  9. Ralph, I think that Ladybug was commenting on retail in general by mentioning Walmart, not just books.

    A big reason why a lot of us live here is the diversity of locally owned stores in the area. For a town this size, we shouldn’t have all the coffeeshops, book stores, record stores, bead shops, etc. Go to any larger city in the region and you will see less to none of these places.

    I know for a fact that Asheville has a voracious appetite for books. A few years ago we had no problem supporting four or five bookstores. What has happened? Are you all getting your books online or at Barnes and Noble? Why is that?

    It is easy to assume that a local store is doing ok, but you really don’t know. It is dangerous to think that somebody else will support them and that you will go to the nearest big box. Like Ladybug said, we won’t know the full reasons for Gillian closing her doors (she might just be tired of the daily struggles), but as I said before we are going to see many more established businesses go down.

  10. Ladybug Girl

    That’s exactly what I meant, Orbit. If nothing but chains are left because all the little guys folded, then whatever they happen to carry is what we’ll have to choose from.

    As the owner of yet another indie bookstore that’s teetering on the brink, I have to say that although I have a small faction of stalwart supporters who put their money where their mouths are, I have a lot of customers who thank me profusely for the almost always free community-oriented programming (which is never even close to free for us to provide) and for the individual attention and advice, but then turn around and buy most of their books on Amazon. I have even had some ask me if I know how much Wal-Mart will be selling the next big release for!

    Atlantic Books, Outspoken, and now Reader’s Corner are gone. All in less than one year. Who’s next?

  11. Jim Shura

    Back in the early nineties I was in a writers workshop with Alan Cheuse. He quoted some study that had found that the number of people who read serious literary fiction in this country had not changed between 1920 and 1990. That number had been stuck at 120k for seventy years!

    Americans have always been more interested in non-fiction and that is what predominates in most bookstores. I wind up buying my books on Amazon because I can’t find them anywhere else. Then I have the dilemma of whether to support the writer by buying new, or to support small business by buying used.

    And I will miss Reader’s Corner. When I lived in Cary I used to go to their other location often.

  12. “I wind up buying my books on Amazon because I can’t find them anywhere else.”

    When I special order books from Malaprops they usually come in a couple of days. The same goes for cds and when we special order movies for our customers.

  13. travelah

    Ladybug, there are ways to market your business to survive in this climate but you have to diversify and focus on where the buyers are i.e. Amazon (meaning the internet and service .. service .. service). It’s also a fact that there are no large scale wooden spool manufacturers in the country (I think)and for a good reason. They became obsolete and could not compete. Of course, there are the small specialty manufacturers who survive serving niche markets but they are the rare exception. The point is if selling books in a small indie shop is your hobby, enjoy yourself. If it is your intention to be a growing and profitable business, you are going to have to take a long hard look at what you have and what you think you can do with it.

  14. Hey everyone,

    Don’t assume that The Reader’s Corner was no longer profitable. Gillian may just be tired of running the store after more than a decade. I’ll miss the store tremendously. It was a destination, and always a wonderful place to spend some time.

    Good luck with the audio work Gillian.

  15. William P Miller

    Ladybug, I have a degree in business and management and have some background. Not an armchair quarterback, but an “on the field” team member. I have seen a lot of small businesses fail simply because research was not done up front. Marketing research. Steve has a good point that surrounding businesses made the Montford location work for awhile. Perhaps he is right here. But my point is quite valid that often the lack of marketing study is the root cause of business failure.

    I have a lot of respect for any small business owner and wish Gilliam good luck in the future. I am a big fan of Warren Wilson College and their penchant for encouraging their students to be creative and independent. I’m sure she will do well in future pursuits.

  16. Jim Shura

    Orbit,

    I own a business a block away from Malaprops and used to go in there every week and browse. Once, I found what I was looking for. Many times I asked for what I could not find and an employee would tell me that the book was part of the normal inventory and would be back in stock shortly. Never was I asked if I wanted to order the book. I still go in from time to time and have yet to see any book by that author.

    I’m not flaming Malaprops, that’s just what happened to me.

    If I bought or rented movies I would certainly come to you or another indie but I have a small boy and two hours of free time is rare.

    Travelah,

    From what wealth of experience does your advice issue? You have a business that specializes in some type of retail that is now dominated by big-box stores? Or perhaps a local newspaper? You have access to the kind of capital it takes to manufacture anything? I didn’t and I’ll bet you Ladybug didn’t either.

    Ladybug,

    If Malaprops is your store, I’ll be happy to discuss my experience with you. Click on me and e-mail. If not, click on me anyway and tell me where I should shop. If you got the goods, I’ll be there.

  17. Kevin F.

    I was a big fan of The Reader’s Corner. I am from Raleigh and visit that location every week (in addition to buying specific books on Amazon–I go to used stores to browse and discover things that I would otherwise never see). Always made it a point to hike out to Reader’s Corner Asheville from downtown whenever I was in the area. I hope that someone takes over and keeps the place open in some capacity!

  18. dee

    I hope he’s with Gillian. He always seemed to have a major kitty crush on her.

  19. Rhymanimal

    Hey Everyone,

    I know for a fact that Gillian didn’t close the bookstore because it was doing badly. In fact, it was doing just fine. She was just over it. She is a very energetic woman who has so many interests she wants to pursue. So that is what she is doing.

    Crumpet is with her and VERY happy.

  20. Randy Flack

    I have known Gillian for many years, since her days a Downtown Books and News. She is a wonderful young lady and she very much believes in hard work and community. She seldom had a day off and gave 100% to the store and the community. I know that whatever she does, she will give it her all.

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