In early December, a family-owned used book store in Charlotte got some bad news. The rent at their longtime spot was doubling for Book Buyers.
They settled on a new spot just down the road, not wanting to leave their neighborhood of more than two decades.
After the store closed in January, the move began. It took over a month to move thousands of books, plus the bookshelves and other goods. It also meant settingtling the resident cat into her new home.
It’s been four months since the store reopened, marked only by a banner and neon light with the words “used books.”
Chapter 1: The Move
After 23 years in Plaza Midwood, Book Buyers is in a new home.
On Jan. 2, the used book store closed its longtime 4,000-square-foot space at 1306 The Plaza. Over a month later on Feb. 7, the store reopened in a similar-sized space in a shopping plaza about 2 miles away at 3040 Eastway Drive, Suite B.
The family-owned used book store has three employees: Richard Rathers and wife Virginia O’Riley, and Rathers’ daughter, Lee. It also is known for its resident cats, including many rescues over the years that the store has helped find forever homes.
Rathers, who takes one day off a week, said her 79-year-old father still works every day.
The family, and friends who volunteered, packed up and moved an estimated 30,000 books themselves.
“I don’t think we could have done it without the volunteers,” Rathers said. “We had somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 volunteers.”
The move also included the rows of heavy golden wood bookshelves, plus the front register counter.
Rather said they used her father’s van and pickup truck, and volunteers’ pickup trucks. They also rented “the biggest U-Haul truck, a 26-footer, for a weekend. “We probably went back and forth in that U-Haul truck about five times,” she said.
Her dad also bought about 3,000 boxes, and they used around half of them.
Reassembling the bookcases and unpacking books was still going on 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 that greets Book Buyers’ customers with meows and an arched back looking for attention and to be pet, didn’t move in with the books. During the changeover, Deena stayed at Rathers’ father’s house. She just moved into the new store about two weeks ago, Rathers said Wednesday.
Deena, like previous resident cats, was a stray. She’s about 14 or 15, Rather said. She’s been “the bookstore cat” for over five years.
“She likes the people,” Rather said. “And she has quickly acclimated.”
Deena also can be found napping on the green and blue plaid blanket folded up on the bottom shelf of aisle 8, behind the “new arrivals” sign.
“Deena’s found a new favorite spot, so we put a comfy blanket down for her there and a name tag,” rather said.
When Virginia walks into the store, it’s clear who Deena favors as she pops up, yelling out in continuous meows.
Another longtime resident cat, Page, died two years ago at age 18. She was found as a kitten at the dumpsters in the back of the old store, and never left the store.
“She became the bookstore cat,” Rather said.
You can find the tuxedo feline “immortalized” in a mural by Grace Elizabeth Stott at the Hub South End.
The store has taken in other cats throughout the years, Rathers said, helping them find new homes.
Chapter 3: Some things change, some stay the same
The new store space, 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 books are now shelved throughout the store.
The front end also is flip-flopped with the register on the left near the door and rather’s The Greener Apple vegan eco-friendly shop on the right.
A focal point of the old store is missing: the yellow Piper J-3 Cub full-sized two-seater plane that was hoisted overhead.
Rathers said her father, who loves flying, bought the frame and pieced it together with found parts. Following a television newscast about the store’s move, someone offered to buy it. And, the new store, with lower drop-down ceilings, wouldn’t have had space for it.
The new store is brighter with additional overhead lighting. There is a children’s section and a seating area in the back. Plus a restroom no longer shared with other tenants, rathers said.
Book Buyers closes an hour earlier at 7 pm, but rathers said that change was made during the pandemic and stuck. Noting the sounds of jazz and classical music pumping through the speakers, rathers said, “I hope it’s still relaxing to people.”
Chapter 4: The customers
Book Buyers plans to get more active in the local literary community by holding poetry and author readings, and children’s events.
“We want to make more of an effort to get people together,” rathers said, “to get the focus away from the computer and online, and get them more excited about the printed word.”
Before the move, Book Buyers held a 50% off sale. Rathers said lines were out the door. “We hadn’t seen sales like that since 2008,” she said.
The store recently resumed trades, based on popularity and condition. The most popular books are classics, the Harry Potter series, true crime and “always” fiction, rathers said.
But one author remains king of the used book store: Stephen King. “His books don’t last long,” she said.
Philip Petty, a North Carolina native living in Italy, was killing time Wednesday afternoon before a meeting when he stopped in Book Buyers. It was the fourth time he’d shopped at Book Buyers, including the old location. The new store feels roomier, he said.
Carrying four books while perusing the aisles, he found a treasure in “The Autumn of the Middle Ages” by Johan Huizinga, written in German and well-illustrated.
Therese Bartholomew, who grew up in Plaza Midwood, lives about three minutes from the new store. On Wednesday, she was buying about 10 books for her mother.
“I was so worried,” she said about the store’s news in December. “I love to see new people here but I still love my old shops.”
Epilogue: What’s next for Book Buyers?
Book Buyers’ large exterior channel letter LED sign by QC Signs & Graphics is expected to be installed on the building within the week. And, Book Buyers is planning a weeklong granding June 6-12.
Here’s what to expect:
▪ 25% off all used books
▪ 10-10:30 am June 6, children’s storytime.
▪ 7 pm June 9, “So you want to be a fiction writer” workshop led by Paul Reali of Charlotte Center for Literary Arts.
Two nights of poetry and fiction reading by local writers, followed by open mic:
▪ 7-9 pm June 10: Phillip Lewis, George Hovis, Erin Coffin, Xavia Miles.
▪ 7-9 pm June 11: Amy Bagwell, DeAngelo Dia, Jeff Jackson, Coleen Muir.
▪ noon-2 pm June 12: Mimosas, coffee and vegan pastries.
“This reopening marks the beginning of future readings and other Book Buyers’ offerings to the public,” rather said.