LOUISVILLE, Ky. — To outsiders, Kentucky’s largest metropolis could also be greatest identified for its lively bourbon distilleries, a baseball bat manufacturing unit, well-known fried hen and a sure horse race run the first Saturday in May, however simply ask somebody there the place to purchase a ebook. “Carmichael’s,” mentioned one longtime resident, “is a Louisville institution.”
The yr 2019 has already been an enormous one for Carmichael’s Bookstore. The metropolis’s oldest unbiased bookseller simply celebrated its 41st birthday in April. But in January, Carol Besse and Michael Boggs, the couple who based the retailer in 1978, formally handed on possession to the subsequent technology: their daughter, Miranda Blankenship, and niece, Kelly Estep.
Both Blankenship, 37, and Estep, 44, grew up working in the retailer. Despite having dad and mom as booksellers, Blankenship didn’t bounce proper into the household enterprise at first, going off to review in prison justice in faculty. “I honestly kind of rebelled away in the early days,” she mentioned, however finally rejoined the workers after realizing she loved serving to individuals discover the proper ebook, whether or not providing advised reads or monitoring down the proper title based mostly on a half-remembered description. “Every day here is different. I realized I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day,” she mentioned.
Estep’s mom (Besse’s sister) has been a longtime Carmichael’s worker and Estep herself has been working at the retailer on and off since she was 14, dusting cabinets and studying the fundamentals of the retail enterprise at an early age. “Although we are new owners and we’re still fairly young, we have a lot of experience and that’s a good thing,” mentioned Estep.
Established in a metropolis that also makes lots of its personal stuff, Carmichael’s Bookstore — now expanded to two locations and a children’s shop — has a reputation for knowledgeable employees, community involvement and strong support of area authors. “I think the ‘buy local’ movement is thriving here in Louisville and I think it’s growing across the country,” said Blankenship.
The older Carmichael’s Bookstore at 1295 Bardstown Road recently had a growth spurt as well. Last fall, the store expanded into the space left by an adjacent Heine Brothers’ coffee shop that moved across the street. Even with the additional square footage, the Bardstown Road store is still packed with a wide selection of new books, magazines, greeting cards and literary-themed gift items like T-shirts, tote bags, buttons and fabric Sylvia Plath and Zora Neale Hurston dolls.
The store windows are papered with posters advertising the busy Carmichael’s events calendar, which includes several author appearances and a book club gathering each month — usually held over at the larger store at 2720 Frankfort Avenue. The schedule has also included poetry readings, a watch party for “The Great American Read” series on PBS, a musician’s book-and-album signing at a nearby record store and chats with children’s books illustrators.
“People are craving some of that nondigital world and bookstores are providing that, but we also have to make sure we’re modernizing and keeping up with trends,” said Estep. Carmichael’s Bookstore now programs about 250 events a year in its shops and around town.
[Want to explore more of the city after you get done book shopping? Check out “36 Hours in Louisville” for some ideas.]
For young readers, Carmichael’s Kids (at 1313 Bardstown Road) has a healthy selection of children’s books, toys and gifts. One of the store’s picture windows, furnished with pillows and a large stuffed Clifford the Big Red Dog, serves as a “book nook” for in-house sampling. “We do two ‘story times’ a week,” said Blankenship, who said the company also coordinates author readings and book fairs at schools.
Located along streets dotted with restaurants and other small businesses, the Carmichael’s stores have a relaxed, neighborhood feel about them that appeals to the serious book browser out for a morning stroll — or the occasional bus full of tourists spilling out to go shopping. “We’ve always been supported by the community,” said Blankenship. “We were one of the founding members of our local independent business alliance.”
Taking over a long-established family enterprise gives the new owners a chance to put their own stamp on the stores, but they say they don’t have major plans to change a lot of things. “We appreciate and what has obviously been a successful way of doing business for 40 years,” Estep said, “and we think about how we can bring that forward with us and our generation.”
While the founders have largely retired, they haven’t completely stepped away from the family business, whether it be consulting or something more hands-on. As Blankenship noted, “my dad will pick up shifts if we need coverage.”
J.D. Biersdorfer is the Times Tech Tip columnist and the Book Review’s production editor. “Book Territory” is an occasional column on the bookstores we love.
Follow J.D. Biersdorfer on Twitter: @jdbiersdorfer.
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