My brother, friend Jacki, and I have an annual Saturday-after-Thanksgiving tradition where we pick a small mountain town (typically in the Catskills), about forty minutes to an hour from where we grew up, drive out there for the afternoon, and spend time sampling the food, drinks, and shopping the towns offers. It’s become one of my favorite yearly traditions, although as we get older, and ostensibly more successful, it’s gotten progressively more expensive, this year in particular because I spent a considerable sum at One Grand Books in Narrowsburg, New York, an independent book store based around the concept of “what ten books would you bring with you to a desert island?” As is typical of me, I haven’t yet read any books I purchased that day.
I bring this tradition up as Jacki was down visiting Asheville last weekend and I thought we’d replicate our holiday tradition by picking a small, mountain town about forty minutes to an hour from Asheville and see what it has to offer. Having already explored Brevard, Black Mountain, Maggie Valley, and Marshall, I chose Sylva.
Sylva was exactly what two middle-class fancy offspring of middle-class fancy families want from their mountain excursions: a quaint, Main-Street-USA-esque Main Street filled with overpriced general stores, folksy art shops, and places to eat that both our mothers would describe as “cutesy,” although I was able to snag a breakfast of eggs and bacon for under $6.00—Toto, we’re not in Asheville anymore!
We had drinks at both Balsam Falls and Nantahala Breweries, wandered through an artist’s farmer’s market that featured an acoustic guitarist playing to a flock of chickens, cursed our fathers for not giving us trust funds at one woodshop, but for my money, the highlight was the Jackson County Friends of the Library used book store.
I spent exactly $22.50 at the Jackson County Friends of the Library used book store and walked out with twelve books. TWELVE! Comparatively, my post-Thanksgiving haul at One Grand Books was $40.00 for two novels. Now, as someone who has overblown aspirations of being the next great American novelist, I’m all for paying full price for books (and do so often and undiscerningly—I love an independent bookstore, but don’t think I’m above Amazon Prime and their two-day shipping), but there’s something particularly fulfilling about finding an intriguing book that you’d maybe never seek out yourself and opening the cover to find it could be yours for just $2.50.
Asheville and its surrounding “small mountain towns” have a solid selection of used bookstores. Here are my favorites:
- Jackson County Friends of the Library Used Bookstore: Do I typically hate people who label something their favorite after only being there once? Of course (my unscientific personal research says that 70% of the time this phenomenon is reserved for Paris or Hawaii, which obviously the perpetrator would go out of their way to pronounce Hawai’i), but once again, 12 books for $22.50! You truly can’t beat that. I was especially impressed by the store’s selection of short stories and their cookbooks.
- Mr. K’s Used Books, Music & More: Jacki and I went to Jackson County Friends of the Library Used books on Saturday and visited Mr. K’s on Monday, where I dropped an additional $12.00 on three books. For those keeping track, I now own sixteen new books—the extra one came from another Sylva bookstore that wasn’t bad by any means, but not top-three material—so let’s see the over/under on how many actually get read this year. Mr. K’s is big for a used book store and as the title suggests also has records, DVDs, puzzles, etc. It also has a small selection of new releases. Mr. K’s is my most visited store on this list as it’s a five minute drive from my apartment. They have a solid trade policy too. It’s cliche to say you could spend an entire afternoon getting lost in a bookstore, but you could easily set aside 2-3 hours for Mr. K’s and find you haven’t given yourself enough time.
- Downtown Books & News: Downtown Books & News is a solid used bookstore right, as the title suggests in downtown Asheville. It’s a small shop, but they’ve got a good selection and I usually find myself purchasing at least something anytime I’m in here. My one quibble with Downtown Books & News is that they’re only open 11-5, which is a little tight, in my ever so humble opinion.
Editor’s Note: Those familiar with Asheville’s “best of” lists may have noticed that I’ve omitted the famed Battery Park Book Exchange. That’s by design. A) I’m not the audience for rare first edition used books that cost more than a typical unplanned J. Crew Factory purchase B) I know you’re only here for the off-the-beaten-path finds you don’t get from the guidebooks!