Clinton — Toni Wall didn’t decide to open a bookstore in Olde Town here only to make money — she did it because it helped to complete a balance she was finally realizing in her life.
For eight years, her love of words and books had been conjuring up in her mind visions of her own book business, but it wasn’t until she turned 50 that she felt many different areas of her life had begun to come together and make sense.
“When I read Southern literary writer Lillian Hellman’s memoirs titled ‘Pentimento,’ I knew this would be the name of my bookstore because the word means ‘to see things differently than before,’” Wall said.
Visitors to Pentimento will discover it as a distinctive place with a variety of slightly-used books. From sections in history, mystery, travel and Southern culture to fiction, non-fiction, rare first editions and out-of-print collections, this store is for readers who are searching for a cozy, high-quality setting in which to find that one volume that speaks to them.
Wall said, “I knew that I wanted the things that matter most in my life to center around books — community gatherings, educational opportunities, children and quiet moments with friends. I needed to bring this image and words together, to have wonderful books in a pleasing environment.”
Making a connection
When opening Pentimento in November of last year, Wall knew that there were people other than herself who were looking for more than the best price or mega-store.
She explained, “Nowadays people want to feel a connection because their lives can be so stressful. They want to find that place where everyone knows your name and knows what you like.”
Customer Polly Marshall, a retired English instructor and avid reader, said she was drawn into Pentimento for just this reason.
“I’m attracted to the store because of its ambience — the easy chairs, water fountain, candles and, of course, the unique array of books,” Marshall said.
Having lived in Clinton most of her life, Wall has always been attracted to the Olde Town area of the city, just as she is to parts of Jackson such as Fondren and Belhaven. And in such quaint business districts, she admits it is much easier to know business neighbors. While the traffic into her store varies, she said she has seen it pick up with customers coming down the recently-opened Natchez Trace from Madison.
“I feel good about my first year, and we’re all down here doing what we love,” she said.
Wall uses what she calls her “sixth sense” to decide what books to stock on her shelves. She said she gravitates to what she likes and is continuously learning and searching for what catches the interest of others. Her degree in art from Mississippi College has also provided her with the ability to look for books with beautiful covers and page designs.
“The travel section in the store is my favorite, but I also love cookbooks that tell about the places as well as the food,” she said.
Marshall said she has likes to think that she has an extensive book collection at home, but said she’s never seen anything like Wall’s compilation.
“Toni can find the best books. Many of which I didn’t even know existed,” said Marshall.
And the prices?
Apart from the quality and comfort that are evident at Pentimento, book buyers can see that Wall has done her research on pricing.
“I have tried to base my prices at mid-range. People have told me that my prices are moderate and fair,” she said, adding that she’s not trying to compete with high-end stores like Lemuria, one of her former employers, and that she doesn’t want to venture into on-line sales.
“I do want to get a Web site up and running, but I want it to be an information site. I like bricks and mortar where I can talk and interact with my customers face to face,” she commented, saying that she welcomes the challenge of searching out books for others.
Moreover, Wall has found the cost of advertising her business to be “shocking.” While she has bought newspaper ads locally and in the Jackson area, she claims that news about her book boutique has spread mainly by word of mouth.
Her competition, she knows, comes from the giants like Amazon.com and discount chains, but she’s not bothered by it.
“I’ve realized my dream, have encouragement from friends and family, and am fulfilling a need in the community,” she said satisfyingly.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Harriet S. Vickers at email@example.com.