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My First Bookstores

I didn’t set foot in an actual bookstore until I was in my later teens.

I grew up in a town with no bookstore and I had no real access to transportation out of that town. I fed my voracious book habit primarily through the use of the public library, sometimes picking up books from the paperback rack in the Buford Street Drug Store or at Walmart.

However, when my best friend got her license and a car, we started tooling up Highway 29 to Spartanburg, SC, on a regular basis, and there I had my first taste of Heaven.

As we entered Spartanburg on 29, one of the first things we hit was the Hillcrest Mall, an indoor mall that contained among other stores a Waldenbooks. The mall was relatively small, and the bookstore itself was fairly small, but never having been inside an actual bookstore before, it seemed massive to me, the largest collection of books I’d ever seen outside a library.

To this day, I can remember that the register was to the right when you walked in, and often there would be little standup cardboard posters for upcoming releases next to it. I vividly recall walking in one day and seeing the poster for King’s GERALD’S GAME and being absolutely beside myself with excitement. In the pre-internet age, I actually never knew when my favorite writers had a new book coming out and certainly had no clue as to titles or covers. This opened up a whole new world.

I spent countless hours in that store, buying up Stephen King and Anne Rice and Dean Koontz. Anytime I had any extra money in my pocket, I wanted to get up to the Waldenbooks and scour the shelves for books to bring home. So many of the writers I’d fallen in love with had such extensive backlogs, I really had to strategize. Dozens of Stephen King books, for instance, but I may have just enough cash for one paperback. Which would it be?

Waldenbooks wasn’t the only piece of Heaven I found at the Hillcrest Mall, however. Attached to the indoor part was a strip-mall called “Specialty Row.” One of the shops in this area was an independent bookstore called Pic-A-Book.

In some ways I loved Pic-A-Book even more than the Waldenbooks. It had more character, more atmosphere. For one, it was kind of a mess. Books just stacked everywhere to the point that I often referred to it as “the Disorganized Bookstore.” But that mess made it feel more welcoming, in a strange way I can’t quite put into words. It was fun to rummage through, looking for buried treasure. When I first started going there, the New Releases section was in no actual order, they just put the new books up on the shelves as they came in. Eventually they did alphabetize them, but not by author name. Instead, by title. An odd system, but one with a certain quirky charm.

True, Pic-A-Book didn’t discount their books like Waldenbooks, but they made up for that in having a more diverse selection. I remember wanting to purchase a biography of Clive Barker, and it wasn’t available in any chain stores, but it was proudly on a display table at Pic-A-Book. Again, before the internet, this was very important.

Eventually Spartanburg got their first Barnes & Noble, and that seemed to drive all the smaller bookstores out of business. Actually all the stores in the Hillcrest Mall started going out of business, but Waldenbooks was one of the last ones remaining before it too folded and they tore down the outdoor part of the mall, making room for a Publix and Stein Mart. Specialty Row remained, and remains to this day, and Pic-A-Book held out against B&N for many commendable years, but eventually it took closed its doors.

I was sorry to see both these places gone, because they were my first foray into the world of bookstores and they held so many great memories for me. However, those memories cannot be destroyed and they still exist inside me, meaning that in some small way those bookstores still exist as well.