Tucked away in the vast aisles and shelves of Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café in downtown Asheville is the 35-year history of a business that remains a vital economic and social beacon for a city that’s evolved exponentially over the last few decades.
“We do feel like we’re an important part of the community. And we’re always looking for new ways to keep reaching deeper into the community around us. We don’t take for granted being here for 35 years,” said Melanie McNair, director of marketing for Malaprop’s.
Originally from Asheville, McNair has always known the beloved bookstore. It’s a place as unique and welcoming as those who peruse its selection and who work behind the counter.
“We’re bibliophiles, and we share that real love of books with our customers,” she said. “It’s hard to separate the independent spirit of Asheville from Malaprop’s. The bookstore was such a cornerstone of the development of the city and what we’re seeing here. People love it here so much because of the independent business owners, and that spirit draws people here. And there’s something about having a bookstore filled with creative and independent people that makes people feel safe.”
The future of independent bookstores was uncertain at the turn of the 21st century because of online shopping and big box retailers. But McNair sees the tide changing in the favor of that cozy, locally-owned shop just around the corner.
“It’s actually a good time to be a bookstore,” she said. “Independent bookstores are on the rise again, with more stores being opened than ever before. And physical book sales are back up. People are craving connections with other human beings and connections with physical objects because we’re so plugged in with our digital devices.”
“We’re bibliophiles, and we share that real love of books with our customers. It’s hard to separate the independent spirit of Asheville from Malaprop’s.” —Melanie McNair, director of marketing at Malaprop’s
And McNair noted Malaprop’s has one thing wholesalers don’t.
“What we do is something that they can’t do—customer service,” she said. “And for a lot of us here, the fact that Malaprop’s is such an important part of the community is one of the reasons why it’s so important for us to work here. It’s why we love working here and why we have such a deep appreciation for the place.”
Beyond the city limits, Malaprop’s is nationally recognized for its readings by bestselling authors and stocking its shelves with some of the finest literature from near and far.
“In the national landscape of bookstores, Malaprop’s is known,” she said. “So, when we go to trade shows and conferences, it’s really fun to find out what Malaprop’s means to booksellers, authors, and other store owners who don’t live here.”
Though McNair was born and raised in Asheville, she did leave for a period, only to return to her hometown, truly appreciative of what this city—and the bookstore—has to offer.
“What brought me back was the natural beauty of the area, as well as the funky vibe that we have retained as the city has grown. We’re a beacon across the South,” she said. And as for the bookstore, “I think we’ll hopefully continue to grow as a hub for great literature, nationally and locally. This is a great book town.”
This post is adapted from our annual Welcome to Western North Carolina magazine. Click here to read more online, or click here to order your own free copy.