Store News


Main Street bookstore to open in historic building

Eric Connor, econnor@greenvillenews.com 7:58 a.m. EDT October 22, 2014

The vision a trio of entrepreneurs has for a specialty bookstore in downtown Greenville has found a home in what has long been a signature piece of downtown's history.

The Greenville County Family Court building — a relic of the World War I era next to the Westin Poinsett hotel — will be the home for the new bookstore venture known as M. Judson, a project now two years in the making.

The project will be a blend of bookstore and café, providing a cultural gathering place for authors and readers, said Ashley Warlick, a Greenville author who has joined with a local magazine publisher and a longtime bookstore owner to realize the vision that city leaders said has long been needed.

"We chose our space very, very carefully to really leverage that building and that historic center of downtown Greenville," Warlick told The Greenville News.

The bookstore will open in the first floor level of the old courthouse. Architectural firm Design Strategies, which now occupies the space, is moving upstairs.

Renovation of the space will take at least six months, Warlick said. The lease is being signed this week with property owner Hughes Development, which has structured the terms favorably, she said.

Earlier this month, Warlick and business partners Samantha Wallace, publisher of Edible Upcountry magazine, and Tricia Lightweis, owner of Booksmith in Seneca, submitted plans for two banners to be hung from the front of the courthouse and a sign printed on the front glass door.

The request must be approved by the city's Design Review Board, which will consider the plans on Nov. 6.

"It's a giant precursor to what we have planned over the next six months," Warlick said.

A specialty bookstore the likes of M. Judson has long been on the "bucket list" of projects the city has wanted to see downtown, Mayor Knox White said.

For more than a decade, the city has wanted a bookstore to fill in the cultural puzzle of downtown's Central Business District, much like other bookstore's in the hearts of great American cities, White said.

The concept is similar to downtown Asheville's Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar.

"We really didn't think it was likely, but in walks in this highly entrepreneurial group of women," White said.

Over the past decade, the city has gotten the downtown supermarket it sought — Publix — and the lesser-heralded drugstore to accommodate hotels— CVS — but the prospect of a bookstore seemed unlikely as the business climate for brick-and-mortar stores suffered.

The city's latest effort had been to attract a Barnes & Noble store in the ONE development.

The new and used bookstore Joe's Place — a bookseller that also features a community gathering place offering wine, beer, local art and gourmet coffee — opened earlier this year in the West End district.

The last bookstore downtown, Bentley's, which sold used books, closed in 2006.

The Open Book, located across from the Hyatt, closed 20 years ago when it moved operations to Pleasantburg Drive, but has since closed entirely.

The idea for M. Judson is a culmination of interests among the three women. The name is an ode to Mary Camilla Judson, a teacher and principal at the Greenville Female College in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Judson studied at the Yale College Library, but she couldn't take classes at the male-only school.

The selection will focus on Southern literature, books for children and young adults and culinary literature, Warlick said.

Along with food books, the store will feature a kitchen and will draw from experience publishing Edible Upcountry, she said.

The location is significant.

Built in 1918, what was originally known as the Greenville County Courthouse has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1994.

It stands as a prime, and perhaps the only, example of the neoclassical Beaux Arts architectural style in Greenville County.

The building served as the county courthouse until 1950. Three years earlier it was the site of the Willie Earle lynching trial that attracted national attention.

The county's family court was housed in the building until 1991 and the structure still bears that name.

Through the front entrance, visitors see a "sweeping double staircase that will be part of the introduction to M. Judson," Warlick said.

"Right now, it's a lot of purple carpet," she said. "A lot of purple carpet. And a little bit of the beautiful bones of this historic building."

The location is "a bit surprising," White said, because the building is not typical for retail space and because retail has been cultivated at the north end of Main Street.

However, he said, "It's a retailer, but perhaps more than a retailer."