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There aren’t enough happy endings for independent bookstores these days.
Beaufort just lost an institution with the closing of the Bay Street Trading Co. downtown.
Its large collection of local books were like flashing green lights on channel markers, guiding newcomers and visitors to the joys of the Lowcountry.
For me, it was “The Beaufort Cookbook: A Treasury of Carolina Recipes,” compiled in 1965 by Dee Hryharrow and Isabel M. Hoogenboom.
We went home with that, “Charleston Receipts” and a simple, spiral-bound cookbook of the S.C. Shrimpers Association. This was before there was such a thing as gourmet shrimp and grits, mind you. How did we ever scrape by on the lowly “Shrimp In Brown Gravy” recipes from the long-suffering wives of shrimp captains?
On Hilton Head Island, the Port Royal Bookstore and Island Bookseller are only memories.
Statewide, some of the preeminent booksellers have closed: The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, The Open Book in Greenville, Chapter Two in Charleston and Pic-A-Book in Spartanburg. They cite breathless competition from large chain stores, online sales and e-readers.
Personally, I think all is fair in the marketplace and I have no qualms with big box stores. But state governments should collect sales tax equitably. Stores should not face a competitive disadvantage because the government is too dumb or lazy to collect online sales taxes.
Still, there are happy chapters for today’s bookstores. The American Booksellers Association claims 16 independent booksellers in 12 South Carolina cities and towns.
And the Beaufort Bookstore in the Beaufort Town Center on Boundary Street is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month.
Owner Wilson McIntosh said it opened with 1,200 square feet and has since grown to 3,600 square feet, with a spinoff store downtown, the McIntosh Book Shoppe in the Old Bay Market Place, specializing in old, rare and out-of-print books.
“It tells you that Beaufort is a sophisticated town,” McIntosh said.
It helps that Beaufort is home to a much-celebrated cultural life, with tourists, retirees, a lot of writers, and three military bases. “We certainly appreciate the military,” McIntosh said.
He also credits longtime employees, led by Connie McGraw and Peggy Fry.
And he clings to the hope that people will always want to look at a book, pick it up, hold it, read it, and let it carry them into a different world.