If you’re like me, you have probably lived in Wake County a while but you continue to find unique little gems. I’m always wishing I knew about a place sooner. If only, if only, right?

Wait no more. The Wake County 360 series has officially begun.

In the coming months, I’m going to be featuring some of the Raleigh area’s best small business. You’ll receive a photo tour (of course) and learn the inside scoop. First up?

Let’s visit Quail Ridge Books tucked in a shopping center off of Wade Avenue in Raleigh.

Quail Ridge is pretty inviting on the outside, but even warm and cozier once you make it inside.

A college adviser introduced me to this store years ago and it’s the BEST place to go when you are ready to head on vacation and need a good book, a really good book and aren’t sure where to start. Turns out, they’re good for much more too, as you will shortly see.

Meet Sarah, the manager. She welcomed me into her office with open arms last week and told me the story of Quail Ridge Books.

There is so much to touch on so before I get started, this is what she wants you to know most of all about Raleigh’s best independent bookstore:

“We offer a handpicked selection of the best books that we can find in almost every area, really personal service, and make community connections by putting readers and writers together.”

Quail Ridge Books began 28 years ago when Nancy Olson and her husband, Jim, opened a small in Quail Corners Shopping Center. At that time, there were few independent bookstores in the area.  She was certainly the only one with the unique vision of how a bookstore could become a small community. After expanding in that location, Quail Ridge outgrew that space again and moved to its current location in Ridgewood Shopping Center in 1994. Sales were growing rapidly in large part because Nancy knew that the key to her bookstore was securing excellent authors for her events.

Convincing the best authors to visit Raleigh was no easy task though. See, the New York publishers and publicists were only interested in the large markets—Atlanta, Chicago, DC. But Nancy was pretty persuasive and soon Quail Ridge became a popular place to send some of the best authors. So popular, in fact, that the publicists were now calling Nancy.

Quail Ridge is very proud of it’s award winning book display. It’s worth a trip to the store itself!

I loved this election-themed book display.

While Nancy was establishing Quail Ridge, Sarah (the manager, remember her?) had opened her own bookstore in 1985 called Wellington’s Books in Cary. She took it upon herself to meet the local bookstore owners in the area and met Nancy during her rounds. They hit it off so well that they met weekly for several years as friends and fellow bookstore owners. Then, the superstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders opened in Cary. With a young family, it wasn’t practical for Sarah to compete with the superstores so she sold her store and joined Nancy at Quail Ridge ten years later.

And that is where the store is now. Sarah is proud that her customers are returning to thank the staff for making a difference in their life by recommending just the right book. The author events are continuing to be an important part of the store. The most successful author events are so moving that some customers have been brought to tears. With 7-10 community events per week, the bookstore is very busy. And when they say big names, they mean it. Rachael Ray is visiting in December!

Do you SEE that calendar? Sarah wasn’t kidding about how full it is.

In addition, Quail Ridge offers about a dozen unique book clubs. Some of which have been together for over a decade. Sarah impressively rattled off the various names: Middle East, Singles Book Club, Literary Pursuits, Contemporary Fiction, Enchanted Adults, Not for Men Only, Mystery, Twisted Threads, Wild Women, Quail Ridge Book Club, and African Diaspora. They are even open to starting new clubs and offer special discounts and meeting places.

Sarah did admit that like all independent booksellers, this is a tricky time with Amazon and e-books becoming so popular. Although the e-book vs. print book story does mimic the changes to the record industry, there are some significant differences and by embracing new technology, Quail Ridge hopes to continue being a community bookstore and differentiate themselves from the online and chain retailers. In the next week or two, they will start carrying an e-reader called the Kobo (an anagram of Book, FYI). They also sport an impressive online bookstore as well as offering e-books.

However, Quail Ridge continue to be oriented to print books most of all. Everyone on the staff reads, they can provide recommendations in all areas that will suite you. Staff members help sift through 50,000 books that are released each year and find the gems. (Sarah admitted that number was probably way more now so I did a little research. The US alone published 3,000,000 books in 2011. I guess everyone I know who ever said they were going to write a book, actually is!)

And do not assume that an independent bookseller like Quail Ridge is small, has a limited selection, or isn’t very adept with technology. These misconceptions are common but just aren’t true.

A few tidbits that make me smile ear to ear from my visit:

  • They have chairs and benches! I adore bookstores with places to sit and browse. See?

One of the aforementioned benches.

  • Jim (Nancy’s husband) is always the one that calls customers to let them know their special orders have arrived. I’ve received a call from Jim letting me know that my dad’s hard-to-find CD had arrived in time for Christmas last year! I like that you know who you are talking to when you call.
  • Shawn Oakley hosts a legendary children’s story time on Mondays at 10am. Moms and kids alike adore Shawn. According to Sarah, she models wonderful interaction with kids and ways to be with them. Note to self: take my kiddo!

When I was wandering around, a children’s book recommendation was featured on a display. The book was called This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klaussen and “Rosemary” recommended it. I turned around and there was Rosemary! That’s local shopping for you.

As a child, one of my favorite book-related memories was meeting an author of “We Keep a Pig in the Parlor” by Suzanne Bloom. To think that Raleigh has a bookstore that is providing these memories to residents in our area just warms my heart.

Lastly, I asked Sarah if she had any great book recommendations for us and this is what she came up with:

The Call by Yannick Murphy (pb, $14.99)

David is a rural New England vet with 3 kids, 2 dogs,1 wife, 0 cats.  The novel is told in the unconventional format of David’s log of veterinary house calls as he cares for the neighborhood horses, sheep and cows, then comes home to care for his family. The family is gentle, disorganized, sometimes sweet, sometimes sad and angry, often funny, and increasingly bewildered as they deal with a serious crisis that tests their bonds.  A small and lovely book you’ll be glad you read.

To stay connected to Quail Ridge and know when the next author is visiting, head over to their website or like them on Facebook.

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