“Books. Cats. Life is Good,” reads the standing sign outside The Bookshop in Chapel Hill. Sadly, that won’t be true for much longer. The Bookshop, a Franklin Street staple since it opened in 1985, announced in January that it would close its doors for good in July. Tomorrow will be the last day of its liquidation sale before it shutters, though on Sunday and Monday, you can haul off any remaining books for free if you bring your own containers and transport.
Betty Schumacher, the manager of The Bookshop, says that the store had a consistent customer base, but multiple factors led to the decision to close. Eric Johnson, who owns two bookstores in San Jose, California, owns the store. Schumacher says Johnson is looking to consolidate his businesses, and The Bookshop is both the smallest and farthest away of his stores. Also, Schumacher says, the building’s new owners are looking to put in a restaurant after The Bookshop’s lease expires at the end of July.
“I was hoping someone would notice the closing and come in and buy it, but the building’s been sold, so anyone who comes in would have to move,” Schumacher says. “Which is part of why we’re closing in the first place.”
The Bookshop represented a unique combination of elements for literary lovers in the Triangle. Anyone looking for a used copy of a current bestseller or a literary classic for English class could be satisfied, but the packed shelves also offered eclectic treasures across genres (I still have such Bookshop finds as Best American Screenplays, Vol. 1, the script for Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, and Jan Pienkowski’s pop-up book, Robot, on my bookcases, and I still regret letting an inscribed copy of On the Waterfront and screenwriter Budd Shulberg’s memoir Moving Pictures go due to lack of funds).
The Bookshop was one of the few local used bookstores that specialized in rare and first editions, but it might be even better known for the two tabby cats in the window. Elmo and Red offered an immediate excuse for window-shopping and, Schumacher says, a way for book-lovers who might be allergic to cats to safely enjoy some short-term feline companionship. Both cats have found a permanent home with a former Bookshop employee.
Still, the business, as Schumacher puts it, “didn’t have much room to grow.” Though she says the construction on Franklin Street didn’t hurt business very much, the limited parking spaces meant it was difficult for people to access the store. “We actually did more business in the summer, after students went home. People could actually park and walk around,” she says. Even employees felt the pinch. Schumacher says that some had to spend $200–$300 on parking each month.
“It was actually kind of expensive to work here,” she says.
Despite this, Schumacher finds the impending loss of The Bookshop sad.
“I think the biggest thing that’s going to be lost is knowledge,” she says. “There’s a lot that can be found and shared through just browsing a bookstore.” She hopes that a good restaurant winds up in the building after the store vacates, but notes that Chapel Hill needs to cater to more than just foodies.
“After you’ve eaten, you need somewhere else to go,” she says.