Chapel Hill News

Bookshop’s Franklin Street building is for sale, marking the end

A steady trickle of shoppers was stopping on Friday afternoon, Jan. 13, 2017, by The Bookshop on West Franklin Street. The bookshop has operated in downtown Chapel Hill for 31 years and will close when its lease ends in July.
A steady trickle of shoppers was stopping on Friday afternoon, Jan. 13, 2017, by The Bookshop on West Franklin Street. The bookshop has operated in downtown Chapel Hill for 31 years and will close when its lease ends in July. tgrubb@newsobserver.com

The Bookshop will send its cats to a good home and mark the end this summer of a 31-year run at 400 W. Franklin St.

The shop’s landlord – Bolin Creek Books – has put the 3,600-square-foot building on the market for $1.2 million. Bookshop owner Eric Johnson, who lives in California, decided not to relocate the independent bookstore, which specializes in used and rare books, when the lease runs out July 31.

“He’s got two stores in California, so he’s sort of trying to consolidate and simplify his life right now,” store manager Betty Schumacher said. “It was easiest just to close this one down.”

Schumacher has managed the store for 10 years with help from assistant manager Lee Johnson.

Cats Elmo and Red, who enjoy naps in the sunny windows and clambering over the shelves, will live with a former employee, she said.

The shop has been very busy since they made the announcement, she said.

“It’s operating quite well. It just that it hasn’t grown at the rate that we had hoped. It’s been pretty flat actually for the last few years,” Schumacher said. “I’m not sure what it is, because we get a very different clientele here because so many of the books are older and rare and hard to find.”

The decision is sad news, agreed Elena Bichak and Nicholas Mims, who were looking for books in the towering stacks Friday.

The couple, who live in the Washington, D.C., area, had stopped to visit Mims’ aunt in Chapel Hill – and The Bookshop – on their way to Asheville. Mims said he looks forward to visiting the shop every Thanksgiving during his family’s traditional trek to Franklin Street.

“The family would kind of stagger out,” he said. “We’d lose some at the campus shops, we’d lose more at the boutiques, we’d lose more at the comic shop, and then lose me here – and then everyone would (get) food at Sandwich or somewhere down the street.”

The Bookshop started liquidation sales this month to reduce the stock and plans to continue buying and trading books through March.

It joins two other longtime downtown bookstores that closed in the last few years: Nice Price Books, which operated nearby for over 20 years, closed in 2013. Internationalist Books, after a brief move to Carrboro, closed its store in September after 35 years.

“If you go back to 2007, there were several second-hand bookstores in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. And now Flyleaf Books, which sells second-hand books, they’re the only place left,” Bookshop co-founder Bill Loeser said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody else opened one. We’ll see.”

Loeser and Linda Saaremaa first opened The Bookshop in 1985, merging two existing bookstores – Bookends in The Courtyard and the Keith Martin Bookshop, located east of Mellow Mushroom.

They sold the business to Johnson in 2007 and started online seller Bolin Creek Books in 2009. Loeser, 74, said he was sad to see the shop close, but as they get older, it’s harder to maintain the 1940s-era building.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he said when asked if there have been any offers.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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