In early December, a family used bookstore in Charlotte received some bad news. The rent for their long-standing location has doubled for book buyers.
They moved to a new location just down the street, not wanting to leave their neighborhood for over two decades.
After the store closed in January, the move began. It took over a month to move thousands of books, along with shelves and other belongings. It also meant settling the resident cat into its new home.
It’s been four months since the store reopened, marked only by a banner and neon with the words “used books.”
Chapter 1: The Move
After 23 years at Plaza Midwood, Book Buyers is in a new home.
On Jan. 2, the secondhand bookstore closed its longtime 4,000 square foot space at 1306 The Plaza. More than a month later, on February 7, the store reopened in a similarly sized space in a mall about 3 km away. 3040 Eastway Drive, Suite B.
The family used book store has three employees: Richard Rathers and his wife Virginia O’Riley, and Rathers’ daughter, Lee. It’s also known for its resident cats, including numerous rescues over the years that the store has helped find forever homes.
Rather, who takes one day off a week, said her 79-year-old father still works every day.
Family and friends who volunteered packed and moved around 30,000 books themselves.
“I don’t think we could have done it without the volunteers,” Rathers said. “We had about 50 volunteers.”
The move also included the rows of heavy gilded wooden shelves, as well as the front register counter.
Rather said they used his father’s van and pickup truck, as well as the volunteers’ pickups. They also rented “the largest U-Haul truck, a 26ft, for a weekend. “We probably drove this U-Haul truck back and forth about five times,” she said.
Her father also bought about 3,000 boxes, and they used about half of them.
Reassembly of bookcases and unboxing of books were still in progress when Book Buyers reopened. The store’s new neighbors include Goat Gear Xchg, Bart’s Mart and The Dog Salon.
“We feel like we belong here,” she said Wednesday.
Chapter 2: Resident Cats
Deena, the gray tabby cat who greets Book Buyers customers with meows and an arched back seeking attention and petting, didn’t move in with the books. During the shift, Deena stayed at Rathers father’s house. She just moved into the new store about two weeks ago, Plutos said on Wednesday.
Deena, like previous resident cats, was a stray. She’s around 14 or 15, Plutos said. She has been “the cat of the bookstore” for more than five years.
“She loves people,” Plutos said. “And she quickly acclimatized.”
Deena can also be found napping on the folded green and blue plaid blanket on the bottom shelf of aisle 8, behind the “new arrivals” sign.
“Deena has found a new favorite spot, so we put a comfy blanket on her and put a name tag on her,” Rathers said.
When Virginia walks into the store, it’s clear who Deena prefers when she appears, screaming in a continuous meow.
Another longtime resident cat, Page, died two years ago at the age of 18. She was found in kitten form in the dumpsters at the back of the old store and never left the store.
“She became the bookstore cat,” Rathers said.
You can find the tuxedo feline “immortalized” in a mural by Grace Elizabeth Stott at South End Hub.
The store has taken in other cats over the years, Plutos said, helping them find new homes.
Chapter 3: Some Things Change, Others Stay The Same
The new store, although about the same size, is narrower than the old store. So instead of seven rows of shelves, there are six. The row of reference works is now distributed throughout the store.
The front is also reversed with the register on the left near the door and Rather’s The Greener Apple vegan eco-friendly store on the right.
A focal point of the old store is missing: the full-size yellow Piper J-3 Cub two-seater plane that has been hoisted overhead.
Rather says his dad, who likes to fly, bought the frame and put it together with found parts. Following a newscast about the store moving, someone offered to buy it. And, the new store, with lower suspended ceilings, wouldn’t have had room for that.
The new store is brighter thanks to additional overhead lighting. There is a children’s section and a seating area aft. Additionally, restrooms are no longer shared with other tenants, Rathers said.
Book Buyers closes an hour earlier at 7 p.m., but Plutos said changes were made during the pandemic and they have stuck. Noting the sounds of jazz and classical music pumping through the speakers, Rathers said, “I hope it’s still relaxing for people.”
Chapter 4: Customers
Book Buyers plans to be more active in the local literary community by hosting poetry and author readings and children’s events.
“We want to do more to bring people together,” Rathers said, “to take their attention away from the computer and online, and get them more excited about the printed word.”
Prior to the move, Book Buyers was running a 50% off sale. Rather said the lines were out the door. “We haven’t seen sales like this since 2008,” she said.
The store recently resumed operations, based on its popularity and condition. The most popular books are the classics, the Harry Potter series, true crime and “always” fiction, Plutos said.
But one author remains the king of the second-hand bookstore: Stephen King. “His books don’t last long,” she says.
Philip Petty, a North Carolina native living in Italy, was killing time Wednesday afternoon before a meeting when he stopped by Book Buyers. This was his fourth time shopping at Book Buyers, including the old store. The new store looks more spacious, he said.
Carrying four books as he roamed the aisles, he found a treasure in Johan Huizinga’s ‘Autumn of the Middle Ages’, writing in German and well illustrated.
Therese Bartholomew, who grew up in Plaza Midwood, lives about three minutes from the new store. On Wednesday, she bought ten books for her mother.
“I was so worried,” she says of the store news in December. “I love seeing new people here but I still love my old shops.”
Epilogue: What’s next for book buyers?
Large outdoor LED letter sign for book buyers by QC signs and charts should be installed on the building within a week. And, Book Buyers is planning a week-long grand reopening from June 6-12.
Here’s what to expect:
▪ 25% off all used books
▪ 10 a.m.-10:30 a.m. June 6, story time for children.
▪ 7:00 p.m. June 9, workshop “So you want to be a fiction writer” led by Paul Reali from the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts.
Two evenings of poetry and fiction readings by local writers, followed by an open mic:
▪ 7-9 p.m. June 10: Phillip Lewis, George Hovis, Erin Coffin, Xavia Miles.
▪ 7-9 p.m. June 11: Amy Bagwell, DeAngelo Dia, Jeff Jackson, Coleen Muir.
▪ 12 p.m.-2 p.m. June 12: Mimosas, coffee and vegan pastries.
“This reopening marks the start of future readings and other book buyer offers to the public,” Rathers said.
This story was originally published May 31, 2022 6:10 a.m.