When you hear the word “bookstore,” you don’t necessarily think of the last book you bought. Instead images of a gathering place, the face of a friendly salesperson or memories of happy and content kids at story hour come to mind. Yes, of course a bookstore is all about books, but a locally owned, independent bookstore is also about community. And that’s what the new local bookstore Novel is all about.
When the news that The Booksellers at Laurelwood was closing its doors started to spread, the reaction of the Memphis community was one of love and support for a beloved institution. Customers flocked to the store to buy one last book, attend one last children’s story hour and give a hug to the employees who had always helped them find a good read.
Realizing the value of an independent bookstore, several business and community leaders came together to save our local bookstore.
Laurelwood Shopping Center was a key player in the process. “I didn’t see Novel just as a necessary entity just for Laurelwood, but for the entire city,” says Cory Prewitt, Laurelwood’s chief operating officer and marketing director. “Every city in America needs a bookstore, and Memphis isn’t any different. They are creative learning spaces that people thrive on. I know my life has improved greatly due to the written word, and I want everyone in our community to experience that, if possible.”
“A bookstore is more than a box in which niche retail happens. A bookstore is a platform that promotes and serves book culture,” adds Matt Crow, one of the investors behind Novel. “Book culture is a place for the written exchange of ideas, aspirations, inspiration, wisdom and beauty. A city of substance has book culture; it’s not optional for Memphis.”
When the owner of The Booksellers at Laurelwood announced this past January that he had decided to liquidate the store, the bookstore and the staff were crushed.
“We are like a family, and we have all chosen this profession because we are passionate about it, and we would honestly rather do this than anything in the world,” says Nicole Yasinsky, Novel’s marketing manager, as she describes the rebirth of this neighborhood bookstore. “So we all knew that if there was a chance for a new independent bookstore in town, we would do anything to make that happen. As our customers came in, and we commiserated, hugged and cried, several of them decided that maybe we could actually do something. John Vergos, Christy Yarbro and Matt Crow were — and are — so crucial to getting the bookstore going. John came in, confident we could make something happen on the other side of liquidation; Christy began to organize the long list of people who said they wanted to be a part of whatever we could make happen; and Matt Crow told us we weren’t crazy and that the numbers looked good, and they placed their trust in our seasoned staff to help them put this thing together!”
The new store is slightly smaller than The Booksellers at Laurelwood was, but looks are deceiving! You will find many of the things you loved about the previous bookstore, as well as improvements you will be excited to discover.
First and foremost, many of the beloved staff will be found behind the counters. “Customers will see the same friendly faces! They will walk through the door and see Mark, Joanne and Scott — all ready to recommend their new favorite book,” says Nicole. Eddie Burton, who has worked at the previous versions of this bookstore for the past 32 years, is leading the team as the general manager.
The popular children’s section remains a big part of the store. As your little one enjoys the brand-new train table, you can find the perfect book or gift for children of all ages. And don’t forget story time! “Marjorie Bowman still does the very popular story time for toddlers,” adds investor Christy Yarbro.
“The store is obviously smaller. The nature of bookstores has changed in the past decade. However, we have more volumes in the present store than you would have found at Booksellers,” says Christy, adding, “We use the word ‘curated’ to talk about our approach to selecting inventory. We are very open to meeting the needs of the community and want feedback.”
In addition, there is a big focus on local authors. “We want to celebrate our local writers and artists,” Christy chimes in as the discussion turns to the large dedicated event space in the rear of the store. Each week there are book talks, book signings and community events happening at the store.
As a community gathering space, Novel also boasts a new cafe, Libro at Laurelwood.
“Having a cafe was a given,” explains investor John Vergos of Rendezvous. “We also wanted it locally owned. We had offers from chains, but that was not our focus. We approached local restaurateur Sabine Bachmann, and, luckily, she was excited. As owner of Ecco and Fratelli’s, we knew she had the knowledge and experience to create something special.”
“A cafe is important to Novel, because I believe it’s more of an extension of the bookstore. Like writing, cooking is an art form that can inspire and take you to different places,” adds Cory. “Like Novel, Libro is 100 percent local. The owner is local; the staff is local; the food is locally derived with a creative flair. I love exploring through the books, then having a nice lunch or dinner afterwards where I can read part of the book or discuss it with friends over a decadent meal. We are so blessed to have Sabine involved. Her creativity and passion come out in her food, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the reception of our newest eatery.”
At Libro, which means “book” in Italian, Sabine has created an upscale, modern bistro that she says is “for people who enjoy good food, good wine and good books.”
It’s a family affair at Libro. Leading the helm is Sabine, but her two sons are key players. Her oldest son, Armando Gagliano, is Libro’s head chef. And, as manager of both Ecco on Overton Park and Libro at Laurelwood, her other son John Paul Gagliano oversees the day-to-day operations of both restaurants.
The inspiration behind the menu and Italian influence? “My son Armando graduated from the Italian Culinary Institute and was exposed to influences for regional Italian cuisine during his intensive course there,” explains Sabine.
Whereas only minor changes were made to the actual restaurant space, the menu and atmosphere have been significantly upgraded. “Italian-inspired and Southern-rooted, every dish we create comes with intentional ingredients, authenticity and a deep love of beautiful food,” says Sabine.
Handmade pastas are part of the menu, and Sabine expects them to become some of their most popular dishes. “Our mushroom ravioli are so popular, we need to make a big batch every day,” she says. Porcini mushrooms, goat cheese and ricotta ravioli are presented in a sauce of melted butter, toasted pine nuts and Grana Padano cheese.
For lunch, consider one of the salads. “The salade niçoise is a lunchtime favorite of mine: enough protein to power you through the afternoon and enough green goodness to make you feel virtuous for eating it, but not so heavy that you want to go back to the office and fall asleep on your desk,” says Matt.
“My go-to dish is the salad with goat cheese, apples and pecans,” says Cory. “Not sure where they get their goat cheese from, but it’s probably the best I’ve ever had. The combination with the light lemon herb vinaigrette is just phenomenal.”
For a bit heartier lunch, consider one of the sandwich offerings such as the open-faced BLT. Piled high with bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado and lemon aioli, this sandwich also can come with a fried egg on top.
“I already have several favorite dishes,” adds Christy. “The tomato soup that was so beloved was reinvented by Sabine and her sons. I like the new iteration of this soup much better. It’s lighter and has more complex flavors with the addition of ginger. Same goes for the fruit tea. The new version is lighter and fresher tasting.”
Paired with a glass of wine, the striped bass served over a bed of Israeli couscous with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and a sweet-pepper purée is a delicious option for lunch or dinner. Hanger steak with new potatoes, garnished with garlic oil and tomato chutney, is a heartier dinner option for the meat lover.
Libro also serves breakfast on weekdays and brunch on Sundays. Christy recommends the French toast. Topped with cinnamon butter, sautéed apples and whipped cream, this generously portioned dish is sure to satisfy.
And Sabine didn’t forget the kids. A bookstore is a family spot of course, so she made sure the kiddos can find something they like on the children’s menu.
Whether stopping by for a book, a gift or a meal, longtime customers will find a lot of what they loved from Booksellers — and so much more.
Nicole summed up the sentiment of everyone who brought this new chapter of our hometown bookstore to life. “Novel is the first store in this location that is truly locally owned. We are all Memphians who love our city. We want the city to know that this is their bookstore as well.”
Novel is located in Laurelwood Shopping Center at 387 Perkins Ext., Memphis, TN 38117. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (901) 922-5526 or visit novelmemphis.com.
Libro is located inside Novel bookstore at the same address. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call (901) 800-2656 or visit libroatlaurelwood.com.
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