Independent bookstore in downtown Roanoke marks 5 years

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ROANOKE, Va. — The owner of Roanoke’s only independent bookstore says spreading ideas and information through the sale of new and used books and events has proved a winning combination so far.

Book No Further, which recently turned five years old, appears to work because of owner Doloris Vest. She is a self-appointed instigator of thought and bookhunter who once located the edited diary of American-born British politician Chip Chanon in London for a customer unwilling to wait for its publication in the United States.

Annual sales are in the six figures. The profit? “Not much,” Vest said, “but a little bit.”

“I am in it more and moreso because Roanoke needs a bookstore. “You know, bookstores play an interesting role in a community,” she said.

Book No Further describes itself as a general interest bookstore with a focus on Southwest Virginia and central Appalachian authors and books. The store presents writing and literature classes, recruits authors to speak, carries translated books and locates hard-to-find items, sometimes overseas. It carries 7,000 to 8,000 titles in the store and all books in print online.

Vest acknowledged that online vendors charge lower prices and that competition is a concern. Unable to compete on price, “what we sell is environment and conversation and well-chosen books,” she said.

A community information hub is what she sometimes calls the store.

“We want people to read, get new ideas,” Vest said.

The City Market shop, going by the motto “puttin’ ideas in your head,” was broadcasting words from banned books into people’s ears recently.

In September, volunteers equipped with a microphone and speaker read banned books on the sidewalk in front of the store.

“We read subversive books like ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and ‘Hop on Pop,’ ” Vest said of the event, titled “Reading Dangerously.”

Some Kansas parents called out by E.B. White’s farmyard fiction classic in 2006 over themes of death — a farm animal facing slaughter and a spider who helps save it, then dies — and objected that the depiction of talking animals offended God.

Hop on Pop, a children’s book by Dr. Seuss, drew a complaint from a Toronto library patron in 2014 on grounds that it encouraged violence toward fathers, according to several online trackers of book banning attempts.

The amplified downtown book reading also included “When Aidan Became a Brother,” a fictional story by Kyle Lukoff about a child and a family’s acceptance of transgenderism. Roanoke County Public Schools pulled the book from the library in one of its elementary schools and placed it in the guidance office to control access.

“The reason that it’s important to read from those books to me is, if that book is bothering somebody then we need to talk about what it is that is bothering. Because if we don’t talk to each other, then we’re never going to get our differences settled,” Vest said.

Vest, who extensively studied the industry before launching Book No Further, has diverse experience as a reporter and editor. She did stints in university marketing and corporate marketing and held two significant roles in nonprofit leadership. She led the Western Virginia Workforce Development Board, now part of Virginia Career Works, and the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce. She is in business with her husband Craig Coker.

Book No Further opened in 2017, when independent bookstores were rebounding after a disruptive period in bookselling. Analysts say competition cut the book retailing sector in half during the first 20 years of this century. Amazon became a preferred retailer for many. Ram’s Head Books, Books Strings and Things and Cantos Booksellers in Roanoke closed. A chain, Books-A-Million, closed its local store.

“Don’t turn the page on bookstores” however, says a U.S. Census Bureau report. There were still 6,000 stores open in the U.S. in 2019, about a third of them independent, according to online research. Barnes & Noble has two Roanoke locations. In the used-book business, Too Many Books operates in Grandin Village and Wonderous Books & More in Salem.

The American Booksellers Association, a not-for-profit trade association, said there are 58 independent booksellers in the state.

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