A book is a book is a book. Right? Meaning you can buy a book anywhere and it’s all the same product. I say wrong. A local bookstore offers so much more than online shopping or big bookstores do. Comparable to a sommelier or your go-to hairstylist, a local bookstore will know you and what your tastes are. I would have never read half the books I have, had it not been for my local bookstore and their recommendations. You can’t get that from an online review alone. You have to go to someone you trust, for a good book can be a transcendant experience. We can all name the top five or ten books that changed our perspective on life, for better or for worse.
For the Louisville community, that local bookstore is Carmichael’s Bookstore, with locations on Frankfort Avenue and Bardstown Road. In fact, Carmichael’s is Louisville’s oldest independent bookstore, dating back to 1978.
Interestingly, this local gem had its beginnings in Chicago. Owners Carol Besse and Michael Boggs met and fell in love while working in an independent bookstore in Chicago in the 1970s. They both worked their way to the top and decided to make three big decisions: get married, move to Kentucky and open their own bookstore.
They thought about moving to Lexington, but noticed a “vacuum in the book business” in Louisville and decided to head this way. They did exhaustive research on finding just the right location for their bookstore. They tracked census data, researching education and economic data for all different neighborhoods in Louisville. In 1977, they carefully selected the area on the corner of Bonnycastle and Bardstown Road in the Highlands (now the Bombay Grocery Mart).
After renovating the building, they purchased their inventory, hired staff and opened their doors on April 15, 1978. They proceeded to work seven days a week for the next few years. They managed to have a daughter and raise her during this busy time as well.
In 1983, they moved their store to the current Highlands location on Longest and Bardstown Road. The synergy with Ramsi’s, Heine Brothers Coffee, the bank and the Bristol could not be more perfect with a major road, plenty of foot traffic and crowded restaurants nearby that always have a wait with patrons milling about.
In the late 1980s, they opened a second location in Prospect and were open there for four years. On paper, it made complete sense, but, the business did not thrive in that location. They shut it down after four years and continued their search for the perfect second location.
They found that perfect second location in 1998 next door to Blue Dog Bakery on Frankfort Avenue. Again, a perfect symbiosis of foot traffic, food and a walking-based neighborhood of made Crescent Hill a great match. They moved down the road to their current larger location on the corner of Frankfort and South Bayly in 2003. They have 22 employees between the two “epicenters”.
They use the Crescent Hill store to host their numerous book and author events. Everyone from Mo Willems to David Sedaris has crossed that threshold.
Events are so commonplace around here now that the bookshelves are all on wheels in this store, so that all furniture is put away quickly and easily and the entire room opened up for events.
Carol Besse is a firm believer that Carmichael’s is the right size for our community. The Shop Local movement has really been a huge support and a boost for both of their bookstores. According to her, it has made people think about what kind of community they want to live in and be a part of.
This is a family run business. Mike and Carol run the stores. Also working there is their daugher Miranda Boggs, Carol’s sister, Diane and her niece Kelly.
Here are all the reasons why Carmichael’s is successful: personal touches, dedicated employees, customer service and commitment to our community.
I asked Carol if she read all the books. She confessed that she did not, but that she delegates the reading to the staff. Of her 22 employees, all have a “specialty” or a niche that they like to read. They write their reviews and their picks for all the customers to see.
This is also the place to go if you ever want “clever” reasons to buy a book. This would fall under the “personal touches” section of their success.
The biggest move they have made in recent years has been the full-service website. Initially resistant to online sales, or as she said “I did it kicking and screaming.” She believes that such a crucial part of their business was seeing and talking to customers and recommending books to them. With online sales, the part she did not count on was the fact that people were browsing in advance online, but still coming into the store to pick up the book. Over 90% of her online “shoppers” come into the store to pick up or buy the book. They liked it because they could shop on their own time.
Customers keep coming back for more: more books, more events, more authors, more booksignings and more “milling about.” Jay Schwandt is the Events Coordinator at Carmichael’s and issues a weekly email newsletter of all the happenings at the bookstore. That’s how popular it is.
If you had to gauge their devotion to our community, just look at their front door and their billboard, packed tight with community events and announcements.
Thank you Carol Besse and Michael Boggs and all the other employees of Carmichael’s Bookstore. Thank you for your heartfelt and genuine love of reading and for passing that on to Louisville. We have appreciated it for 36 years.
Carmichael’s Bookstores has two locations:
- 2720 Frankfort Avenue (corner of Frankfort and S. Bayly)
- 1295 Bardstown Road (corner of Bardstown Rd. and Longest Ave.)
Visit their website at www.carmichaelsbookstore.com