Lewisburg’s independent bookstore is turning the page on the popularity of big-box online retail establishments.
When he was getting ready to open A New Chapter, David Craddock started hearing the same expression: A town is not a town unless it has a bookstore. That was a little before Memorial Day 2018, when Craddock opened the doors to his new bookstore in downtown Lewisburg. “We made it to the second year, so we must be doing something good,” Craddock says.
Now, A New Chapter is doing pretty well, Craddock said. The business has been bolstered by local support and lots of young people looking to read. “I didn’t think young people read anymore. Turns out, they do,” Craddock says.
In a way, his bookstore is another chapter— so to speak—in Craddock’s life. He was born in Tennessee, but moved when his father went to work for NASA in Huntsville, Alabama. He studied law at the University of Alabama and later at Emory University in Atlanta. He made a living doing corporate law, married another attorney, and moved to Tennessee. When Craddock retired, he knew he didn’t want to be done working for good. He fell in love with reading as a kid at the public library and has always been an avid reader. “I always had it in my mind I wanted to open a bookstore,” he says.
“We made it to the second year, so we must be doing something good.”
He started thinking about towns where he’d want to live and where he could also open a shop. That’s how he stumbled on Lewisburg. He and his wife had a house in Snowshoe, and Craddock visited the area a few summers ago. The quaint and hip Greenbrier County town seemed like a good fit. So, he found a 2,000-square-foot space across from the Visitors Center to move the bookstore into and a 150-year-old house to move into. Both needed some fixing up.
He started visiting other independent bookstores in big cities, trying to figure out what kind of look and feel he wanted for his own. Many, he found, were too cramped for his taste. He felt claustrophobic and overwhelmed. His shop now has lots of room to browse and hang out. The store has 25-foot-ceilings and a coffee bar. A wine bar is in the works.
Craddock says he has learned quite a few lessons about small business ownership. First lesson: It’s really hard to get a loan to open a small business. “That was a hard lesson to learn,” he says.
He’s also found independent bookstores like his are doing just fine despite the looming presence of online giants like Amazon. Craddock makes sure to talk to his customers and recommend books they might like. If someone’s looking for a book he doesn’t have, he’ll order it.
A New Chapter has become a destination. “It’s all about the personal service,” he says. The importance of personal service became evident the first Saturday the store was open, when the internet went out across the town. Craddock couldn’t take credit or debit cards. He told people to just take the book and pay him later. Most people came back to pay—and then bought more. “It’s a rewarding thing to do,” Craddock says.
A New Chapter is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Hours shorten slightly in January and February. 922 Washington Street West, Lewisburg, newchapterbookswv.com
written by Katie Mishkin
photographed by Nikki Bowman Mills