Shop serves as community’s conduit to book world, writers

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Published: August 8,2005

Tupelo — The Reed family name is synonymous with quality retailing and community service. It’s something they’ve been doing for 100 years at their downtown department store. In 1985 they added a bookstore to the merchandising mix when Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore came into being.

“We thought it would be a nice complement to our gift shop and to our flagship store and the downtown area,” says Jack Reed Jr. “Our family loves books, and several of us were English majors.”

The name was chosen to honor the native gum trees that dot the area and the Natchez Trace. Reed says it’s a way to tie in with the local area and the annual Gum Tree Festival.

The gift shop and bookstore share a big half-moon service desk with the gift shop on the right and bookstore on the left. Fifteen people work in the two areas, but each shop has its own identity. In addition to books, the bookstore does a big business in stationery and invitations. Reed says the gift shop is one of the nicest in Mississippi. It’s one of the 10 largest dealers in the South of the Italian ceramics line, Vietre, and is a large Gail Pittman pottery outlet.

Book browsers can also have lunch from what Reed describes as “a hybrid deli” set up with four tables in the bookstore’s foyer. A local shop provides sandwiches and salads that are kept with soft drinks in a cooler.

The main attraction

But make no mistake, books are the main attraction at this independent bookstore and book signings are an important part of the agenda. Bookstore manager Camille Sloan explains that Reed’s is one of the five bookstores that first sold the works of John Grisham.

“That was when he came in with his books in the trunk of his car,” she said. “He is still loyal to us and the other four and is the most popular author that we have for signings. He remembers us.”

Reed points out that the bookstore has a mantra of “where readers and writers meet” and they try to live up to it. Book signings are held most every week and drive the business.

Another Mississippi writer, the late Willie Morris, was a frequent visitor who was popular with customers too. Recent visiting Southern writers include Greg Isles and Rick Bragg, who drew big crowds.

“We try to be open to everyone and give people in the community opportunities to get their works out to the public,” Sloan said. “We’ve had a local church signing copies of their cookbook and two teachers who wrote and illustrated a children’s book.”

Reed says it’s part of their community service to give first-time authors a time to sign books, too. “We try to accept all offers,” he said. “It depends on how much editing we do. We also go to the Southern Booksellers conferences and line up authors for signings.”

A few of the specialties

Southern writers and children’s books are the specialties among the 3,000 book titles carried at Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore. They don’t carry a lot of mass paperbacks. “We have very diverse readers and try to offer things that are good literature but may not be getting the marketing attention of publishers,” Sloan said. “We also depend on customers to tell us what they want.”

The store has a large children’s section and provides a story-telling time on Saturdays.

“We’ve found our niche even though we have more competition than anywhere other than the Jackson area,” Reed said. “The store has been well received. You don’t own an independent bookstore for the money, and I’m sure my fellow booksellers will tell you that, too.”

Sloan says the bookstore tries to be very service oriented by quickly getting special-ordered books, providing free gift wrapping and offering nationwide gift certificates and copies of Book Sense. A reading club meets in the store at night, too.

“We can’t compete with Books-A-Million on price but we can on other things,” Reed said. “We try to find whatever it takes to keep our customers satisfied. Our key is family tradition and service. The community looks to us to be their conduit to the book world.”

A part of that community service was marking the department store’s 100th anniversary with an evening with Grisham at the public library last January. Seven hundred people attended the televised event that ran on the local station.

“The library could not afford to do that,” he said, “and we felt it was being a partner with the community to sponsor it.”
This bookseller is an eclectic reader and keeps a list of the books he reads every year. He most recently finished “A Long Way Down,” a macabre humor book by Nick Hornby. He also likes biographies and books on leadership.

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

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