While Mercury readers have for a number of years enjoyed access to Downtown’s independent bookstore Buxton Books, there’s good news for those who love the atmosphere and service of the “indie” niche East of the Cooper: The Village Bookseller has opened in Mt. Pleasant, located at 761 Coleman Blvd. Proprietor Karen-Anne Pagano, a native of Scotland, graciously agreed to an interview, but we found her own words in a follow-up email to be the best way to tell her story, illustrating how life led her to this unique new profession.
Karen-Anne: I began my corporate career in the oil and gas industry and spent 13 years in Houston. I was supposed to be in Houston only a couple of years, but I met an (American!) man, now my husband, and never moved back to the United Kingdom.
I have two sons. Richie is 11 years old and Dominic is eight. Dominic has Down Syndrome and so, following his birth I took a career break for several years to take care of his immediate medical needs.
We made a decision in 2017 to leave Houston and move to a smaller city for a different pace of life. I missed the history, beautiful architecture and the natural beauty of Scotland —Houston has the history piece but really not much else. We decided on Charleston, a city we had both previously visited and loved. Truth is, I lost any desire to return to the corporate world (partly because of what we lovingly call the “Dominic factor”), so relocating wasn’t that big of a problem.
We moved to Mt. Pleasant in the summer of 2017 and I spent the first year or so getting my boys settled into their new schools and developing new life routines. About a year ago, I started asking myself the existential question “Ok, so what do I want to do with the rest of my life?”
As fate would have it, we visited Savannah and I discovered the renowned bookstore, E. Shaver. I walked out of the store and told my husband Edd that I had the answer: I was going to open an independent bookstore.
I did a lot of research before putting together the business plan. There’s been a huge resurgence in the popularity of indie bookstores in the last 10 years or so (from 1,500 nationwide 10 years ago to around 2,500 today); I believe this is in part because of the shop local movement, but also a growing consumer distaste with Amazon’s business practices. I believe Americans have a growing desire for human connection and a tactile, more pleasurable book-buying experience.
Around the same time, I was thinking intermittently about Dominic’s future and how life would look when he finished school (Employment opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities are shockingly low and they are generally undervalued as to what they can contribute to mainstream society.) Dominic is a very gregarious, sociable (and funny!) child and I envision him working alongside me in the bookstore. That sealed the deal, we signed a lease and planned on opening March 21 — World Down Syndrome day.
Then Covid happened and the world came to a screeching halt. We finally opened May 9, but are following all social distancing guidelines, wearing masks and providing hand sanitizer.
During the quarantine we started doing free doorstep delivery for books purchased on the website. This has been tremendously popular and we plan on continuing this service.
Since opening the store two weeks ago, I’ve seen a reasonable number of customers. Obviously less than previously hoped for, but encouraging nonetheless. The “grand opening” plans are on hold until we believe the danger associated with Covid-19 has passed, but once that time arrives, we plan to host events, story times, author readings and signings and book clubs.
The outpouring of support from the local community has been overwhelmingly positive. It seems everyone is very excited about the bookstore and really gets both the extrinsic and intrinsic benefits a bookstore can bring to the community.
The store was planned and designed to have a welcoming and cozy feel … comfy leather armchairs to sit in and room to browse. I am also serving espresso coffees (and some Scottish tea!) and really want customers to see the store as a sanctuary away from the distractions of the outside world. Just today I had a young mother and her kids come in and “hang out” in the kids area for an hour, where she read to her children. Before leaving she was kind enough to buy some books … but their family experience really encapsulates what I’m trying to create.
I’ve also enjoyed support from local authors. Mary Alice Monroe visited on Friday to sign copies of her new book and has been promoting the store on her social media.
My long-term goal is to form a non-profit to focus on childhood literacy in underserved communities around the Charleston county areas.
For the time being, please know we are open and ready to serve you. And remember— the small businesses in the region need your support during these difficult times, so please make your purchases from locally-owned stores!
The website is thevillagebookseller.com and Karen-Anne may be reached at email@example.com or (843) 654-9449.