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Turning Pages offers books, coffee, charm in Victorian setting

Natchez — Turning Pages is one of the jewels in Mississippi’s crown of outstanding independent bookstores. Owner Mary Emrick says providing services is what keeps hers and other independents going.

“Our customers come here for things they wouldn’t go to chain stores for,” she said. “The Internet and chains are difficult to compete with, but my loyal customers come here anyway.”

Not only does Turning Pages have a lot of loyal local customers; it also has a lot of tourists who shop with there. Its location on Washington Street is part of its success and Emrick says it’s important. The shop is across from the Canal Street Depot where Natchez Pilgrimage tickets are sold.

“We have a real good Civil War section because tourists expect that,” she said, “and we carry a lot of local history, local authors and biographies. I’d say we’re a general bookstore.”

Laura Godfrey, executive director of the Natchez Chamber of Commerce said Turning Pages has filled a niche market in the historic, downtown area. “It has a lot of charm and our visitors enjoy it,” she said. “The staff is constantly helpful and giving personal service that you don’t find much anymore.”

The cream-colored Victorian house with maroon trim and gingerbread woodwork lures visitors to its door through a front porch complete with rocking chairs and lots of plants. A two-story with 3,000 square feet of space, Turning Pages has new books downstairs and used books upstairs. The coffeepot is always on and free cookies are available all day long. There are lounge chairs and a friendly staff. What better atmosphere could there be for browsing and shopping?

“We play all kinds of music too; things like blues, zydeco and oldies that appeal to our customers,” Emrick said. “The best service we offer are our employees who know the business and love and read books.”

Those employees are store manager Pat Butler, Becky Spears and Donna Harrison.

Other services provided by Turning Pages include:

• special order with a three-day turnaround

• free gift wrap

• delivery

• sell and rent music and book CDs

• Web site coming soon.

“We have some elderly customers who ask us to deliver books or maybe someone is home sick and wants a book,” she added. “Sometimes someone will call and ask us to bring a book out to their car too.”

Turning Pages’ Web site will list store events and book picks for good reading, along with reviews and what’s new. Customers will be able to connect by e-mail and place orders, Emrick said.

“For a store this size, we have a nice children’s section with pillows, a rocking chair and a colorful jungle motif that includes artwork on the wall by local artist Erin Eidt,” Emrick says. “We didn’t want it to be too babyish, and it’s not with snakes, monkeys and other jungle animals.”

The house has been a bookstore since 1991, and the current owner says it’s a nice place to be. “We enjoy it,” she said.

“The best thing is the people who come in. They brighten our day and we have the love of books in common with them.”

She says anyone going into the bookselling business to make a lot of money, should consider another line of work. Independents do not have the luxury of big markups and deep discounts like chain bookstores have. However, she feels the future for independent stores is still okay as long as they are innovative and offer services.

This independent bookstore also participates in Book Sense Picks — along with 1,300 national independent booksellers — to recommend choices for adult and children’s books, audiobooks, mysteries and paperbacks. These pamphlets and nationwide gift certificates are available at Turning Pages.

The staff is looking forward to the fall pilgrimage that brings lots of visitors to town. Author signings with acclaimed writer Ellen Douglas and newcomer Joe Lee are scheduled during that time.

By training, Emrick is a registered dietician who worked at St. Dominic Hospital and University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson while her radiologist husband, Fred, was in medical school. She laughs about how she became a bookseller.

“My dad was an English teacher and later a professor at LSU, my mother was an elementary teacher and my grandmother taught history. I was always read to and read. My mother-in-law was a librarian so I even married into it,” she said.

The Emrick’s three children, Mindy, Chuck and Bert, are also avid readers.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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