When I moved to North Carolina in 2003, I immediately fell in love with Wilmington for its history, creativity, and general sense of artsiness. Located on the Cape Fear River and the North Carolina coastline, it’s the perfect getaway for families, students, beachcombers or landlovers with a taste for culture and cuisine. As I continue to settle back into life in North Carolina, I took some time to re-visit Wilmington, this time with a particular goal in mind: to find the best of the best bookstores.
A quick glance through the yellow pages revealed several independent booksellers in the downtown area, as well as several outside downtown and nearer the campus of the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. With my trusty camera in hand, I set out to see what these booksellers had to offer, and although I had high hopes for these literary hovels, they managed to surpass even my wildest expectations.
Two Sisters Bookery is located in the historic Cotton Exchange at 318 Nutt Street, right downtown at the edge of the river and downtown’s quirky shopping scene. Downtown is a shopper’s dreamscape, and Two Sisters Bookery is no exception. The store reminded me a bit of a hobbit hole and a medieval castle all at once, with its brick walls, wooden arches, comfy chairs and bulging stacks, I immediately felt my bibliophile’s heart go all aflutter. The store is jammed with interesting books and assorted goodies like bookmarks, bags and other pretties. Of all the sections of the store, I was most intrigued by the gorgeous Children’s area, which left me all but helpless to snap away with my camera and nose through the offerings.
In addition to the Children’s section, Two Sisters offers a special section on Southern authors and the shelves are peppered with handwritten staff recommendation cards. While I usually have no trouble finding something to buy in a bookstore, I know Two Sisters’ recommendations would keep me buying on even the darkest, dankest, poorest grad school salary day.
While I wasn’t able to meet the owner, Cathy Stanley, I did take a few minutes to read her account of how she came to own the store in, “I Never Meant to Own a Bookstore…”
My next stop on a bookish tour of Wilmington took me just down Front Street from Two Sisters to Daughtry’s Old Books on Front Street, and what a treat! I have been inside the store many times over the years because the pull of an authentically bookish bookstore is too strong for me to resist. Old Books on Front Street is not fancy. You won’t find any candles or greeting cards—or those comfy chairs that we all love—because that would take away from the available space for books! Mr. Dick Daughtry, the store owner for over a decade, sits just inside the doorway behind an old wooden desk and greets every customer who enters the shop. At age 87, with over a decade of bookselling experience under his belt, this is a man that loves people, loves books and has found a perfect balance of both. Mr. Daughtry is quick to tell the patrons that over 30 motion pictures have been filmed inside the store, including A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story. When I asked him why people are so attracted to Old Books on Front Street, he replied, “Because it looks like a book store!” And indeed it does. With books piled as far and wide as the eye can see, it certainly does look like a book store. The kind where you have to hunt and scramble and discover treasures—and that is part of the fun.
Mr. Daughtry and his wife Lucy recently chose long time patrons, the Rohler family, to carry on the legacy of Old Books on Front Street, so be sure to visit their spiffy new website.
Finally, after a leisurely lunch and a multitude of shopping, I left the downtown area and made my way past the UNC-W campus to a truly delightful gem of a bookstore, Pomegranate Books, located at 4418 Park Avenue. Owner Kathleen Jewell, a former physician, describes her foray into bookselling as her “midlife adventure.” A progressive bookstore, this shop has much more than just books to offer. Pomegranate Books is strikingly active in the Wilmington community as an active supporter of the Cape Fear Literacy Council, Dreams of Wilmington and NC Arts for Health just to name a few. Pomegranate also sponsors a new charity every month. When you donate to the Charity of the Month you receive a free book from the designated stacks.
As if this socially conscious, community-oriented attitude was not enough, the store is a feast for the eyes and the wallet. Located in a little white house, the store boasts lovely décor and an extensive collection of books and merchandise in its limited space. The store offers membership to patrons at household and student rates, which means discounts of 10% off of all titles and 25% off of books on the bestseller tables. Additionally, book groups ordering five or more copies receive a 15% discount off of the chosen title for all members.
There is no end to the offerings of Pomegranate Books, from the book-friendly atmosphere to the socially conscious currents running through the establishment, Pomegranate Books is full of treasure. To learn more, visit their website.
My bookish tour of Wilmington yielded all of the things I adore most about the city: history and tradition blended with an overarching sense of creativity. I can only say that my already high opinion of Wilmington was further heightened by the discovery of its independent bookstores. These establishments enrich the city, its residents and those of us lucky enough to pass through.