Normally it’s laborers, contractors or inspectors who don hardhats to examine a dark, damp building filled with bare steel frames and puddles of blow-in rain. But on April 29 in Winston-Salem, community members, eager children and anyone else equipped with close-toed shoes toured the construction at 634 W. Fourth St. No. 110, safety hats and all.
The site hosts the development of a new independent bookstore and gathering space for Bookmarks, a literary arts nonprofit that strives to foster a love of reading and connect readers and authors around the Triad.
Those on the tour enjoyed witnessing the sodden skeleton of a building that will soon teem with book buyers, conferences, cafe-goers and authors such as John Grisham, Daniel Wallace and many others already booked for readings.
Before the tours began, more than 100 people packed into the breezeway outside — a wide entry that leads from the street to No. 110. They’d arrived for Bookmarks’ groundbreaking ceremony ahead of its official opening and ribbon-cutting, which are scheduled for July 8. After speeches and introductions, several members of the Bookmarks staff and board hoisted up shovelfuls of mulch in the ceremonial groundbreaking act.
Beth Seufer Buss — Bookmarks’ community outreach and facilities manager — led tours of nine people at a time through the new space. She pointed out corners and future rooms that will hold checkout counters, bleachers for storytime, conference rooms, storage areas and a small Foothills Brewing café.
“It’s an exciting addition to support our mission,” she proclaimed.
The aged, industrial facade of the building, as well as the impressive scope of the breezeway and the scores of attendees suggested successful and energetic times on the horizon for Bookmarks.
Less than half a mile from the nonprofit’s new location is another bookstore, Bright Leaf Books, which has only been open for about a month. Unlike the new Bookmarks location, Bright Leaf carries mostly used books. Compared to the jubilee at No. 110 not far away, Bright Leaf is small and quiet. Though bookcases line the room’s interior, nothing hangs from its walls save one set of shelves that holds writing notebooks and greeting cards. The bookcases are unpainted, and some nails shine prominently from their wooden edges. But the unfussy aesthetic fits the store. Though Bookmarks will likely surpass Bright Leaf in terms of the events it holds and its pomp and flare, there are other requirements for patrons looking to spend an afternoon perusing the shelves. The stores’ environments differ in ways that make sense.
Samuel Puliafito, Bright Leaf’s owner, opened the shop because he wanted to start a book business, and he chose Winston-Salem after considering several other cities in the region due to its downtown revitalization and the city’s institutions of higher education.
“You need to be near at least one major university to carry these types of literary fiction,” Puliafito explained, describing his collection of scholarly titles.
Though it wasn’t necessarily a used bookstore that Puliafito dreamed of starting up, he feels that used books provide a fundamentally strong business.
“It’s easy for used [books] to beat online prices,” Puliafito said. “I sell new ones from 20 percent off, and I still can’t beat the downward price pressure from Amazon.”
Puliafito estimated the room’s square footage at only about 1,100, but plenty of patrons browsed its shelves and came to Puliafito with inquiries and purchases.
Despite the geographic proximity and the closely timed openings, both Buss and Puliafito envision a harmonious synchronicity.
“The more bookstores downtown, the better for both of us,” Puliafito said.
He and Buss both believe the dissimilar stores will encourage residents to explore each location for different reasons, rather than frequent just one. They’ll find out if they’re right soon enough.