FACES of Nashville: Ann Patchett & Karen Hayes

This week Nashvillians will celebrate the opening of Parnassus, the much anticipated, long desired independent bookstore located at 3900 Hillsboro Pike, 37215 (same shopping center as Donut Den). So, it seems appropriate to deviate slightly from our typical Monday “Faces of Nashville” personal interviews and take this opportunity to interview co-owners Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes, about their vision for the store, instead.

Parnassus fills a void left by Davis-Kidd and promises to be a place where people of all ages can celebrate the written word and feel a sense of connection to the books they admire the most. Named after the Greek mythological home of literature, learning and music, Parnassus accurately defines what a bookstore should be—a place where all of these attributes are celebrated.

We are thrilled to have Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes join us today:

There is so much buzz about the opening of Parnassus. What brought your partnership about?

Ann: I saw Michael Zibart over at Book Page and told him I thought he should open a bookstore. (His family had the wonderful store, Zibart’s.)  He said not a chance, but knew someone who wanted to open a store and introduced me to Karen. It turned out that she was friends with my very dear friend, Mary Grey James, and that was all the recommendation I needed. I was in. Now Mary Grey is the store’s general manager.

From your past career with Random House and Ingram Books, what insights do you bring as the co-owner of Parnassus Books?

Karen:  At Ingram, I wore many hats. It really was my education in the fundamentals of the book business, from customer service to buying. As a sales rep at Random House, I had the pleasure of calling on and learning from some of the best independent booksellers in the South and Midwest.

You jokingly said you want to be in charge of the gift wrapping department of Parnassus. In all seriousness, how much time will you spend at the store and what do you envision your role to be?

Ann:  I want to be a presence in the store, but my job is to write some of the books we’ll be selling. As much fun as it may be to have a novelist sell you a book, I still think most readers would agree it would be better for me to stay home and write. I will have a blog in which I recommend books. I’m pretty passionate about what I read.

As new owners of an independent bookstore, what’s the best advice you’ve been given for your new venture?

Ann: Many booksellers stressed the importance of putting the children’s section in the back of the store, so that when the children make a run for it, the parents will have time to catch them before they get through the door. I’m sure that sounds like a joke but it’s not. I thought it was brilliant advice. One of my favorite booksellers, Daniel Goldin of Boswell books in Milwaukee, told me that people were crazy to buy anything that was hanging from the ceiling. Unfortunately our ceilings are too high to implement that advice.

Karen: You know, I can’t recall one earth shaking piece of advice I received that I could quote you. But I have received so much help from so many people.  Independent booksellers are a huge support to one another, and everyone that I’ve called has given me some little tidbit of advice that has helped move the store forward. There are several people in town who have been incredibly helpful, including Karen Davis, one of the founding owners of Davis-Kidd, and Andree LeQuire, the realtor who, among countless other things, helped Ann and me find the perfect location for our store.

I have heard you both describe Parnassus as your gift to Nashville. What do you mean by that?

Ann: Opening a bookstore is a risk these days. It’s a changing market. We’re asking people to pay full price for a book they could get more cheaply online because we believe the city wants a bookstore as much as we do. Our love of Nashville, combined with our love of books, makes us willing to take that risk.

Karen: I don’t think I’ve ever said it was a “gift,” but I do hope that is how people will perceive the store. I love this city and all that it has to offer and really want this store to be a reflection of the best of the city.

If you can think of an author who profoundly influenced your life, who would it be?

Ann: My gosh, how far back do you want to go? E.B. White? Laura Ingalls Wilder? I can think of so many people who influenced me. For now let’s say Saul Bellow and Grace Paley. Tomorrow I’ll tell you someone else.

Karen: Ray Bradbury was the author I read as a kid that switched my love of reading into overdrive.  What an imagination he has.

When customers walk out of Parnassus, describe the feeling you want them to leave with.

Ann: I just left the store about a half an hour ago, and I had an overwhelming sense of warmth and love. That’s just me, but I think when people are in there they’ll know what I’m talking about. Being in a little bookstore again after all this time is a very moving experience.

Karen: I would like for them to already be looking forward to their next visit to the store as they are walking out the door.

What books are on your bedside table right now?

Ann: I’m reading River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh right now, but I’m tempted to dip into Wildwood by Colin Meloy.  I just read his sister’s book, The Apothecary, and I loved it.

Karen: I’m reading a book that will come out in January called Lost Saints of Tennessee, by Amy Franklin Willis, and Diane Keaton’s memoir of her mother, Then Again.

Given the state of independent book stores in general,  what do you think is the biggest challenge for Parnassus books?

Ann: To make people feel that supporting your local independent bookseller is worth it, to provide such great service that people remember the pleasures of buying books from smart, well-read human beings. We’re not only bringing books to Nashville, we’re supplying jobs and a tax base. I’m extremely proud of that.

Karen:  Ditto!

Can you share with readers any upcoming events you have on the calendar at Parnassus?

Ann & Karen: Yes! The grand opening party on Saturday, November 19th. Everyone is welcome! Events will be a big part of our future, but we’ve decided to wait until after Christmas before we start having them. What matters right now is that we’re up and running.

For a behind-the-scenes look of this photo shoot, go to Ashley Hylbert’s blog:  click here