South Main Book Juggler depends on community for success

The South Main Book Juggler provides a local bookstore option in the heart of Downtown, where a mix of locals and tourists access a selection of used and new books.
When the South Main Book Juggler opened Downtown in October 2013, it signaled a new local book destination for Memphis.
 
The store focuses on used books with a mix of new books and of unique gifts. For Downtown resident Jean Williams Andrus, the South Main neighborhood made a lot of sense for her business.
 
“We feel like it’s a true neighborhood,” she said. “Within a year of living here we knew more people than we ever knew in our suburban neighborhood we lived in for 20 years. It just felt like this was something Downtown Memphis needed. It’s been lacking a bookstore.”
 
In some ways, operating a bookstore probably makes sense for Andrus who grew up around books. Her mother was a school librarian, and Andrus later worked in the Murfreesboro public library after graduating from Middle Tennessee State University.
 
She later returned to Memphis and spent 20 years working in a retail setting for her family’s machine shop business. After taking a few years off, Andrus and her husband, Clayton, moved to Downtown Memphis. And she immediately wanted to make a contribution to her new neighborhood in the form of opening a business.
 



















She had her mind set pretty early on it being a bookstore. The couple went on a road trip to visit as many bookstores as they could find. The last stop was in Asheville, North Carolina, where they visited one bookstore for three days.
 
“Each day we visited there were customers,” Andrus said. “My husband said, ‘OK, you put together a business plan and I’ll look at it. If it’s reasonable we’ll consider it.’ I put it together, and after a week he said OK and we signed the lease. Then the hard work began.”
 
That road trip was in August 2013. The South Main Book Juggler opened in late October that year. In the two months between, the couple built and painted book shelves and accumulated books. Lots and lots of books.
 
The early inventory came from family and friends. Now it’s varied. Andrus might get a call from someone liquidating an estate or people who are moving and want to unload books.
 
For now, Andrus and her husband are the only employees. She could envision adding someone if she ever decided to add an online shopping component to sell more of her massive basement inventory.
 
The store is located at 548 South Main just south of Main Street’s intersection with G.E. Patterson Avenue. Andrus liked it because it’s where the Main Street trolley line ends, which is something she laughs at with irony now. Less than a year after opening her store the trolley stopped running and remains in limbo today.
 
The lack of trolleys on the street is a challenge, but Andrus said the business is overcoming it as people continue to learn about her store. She depends less on walk-up traffic and tourists wandering in and more on the neighborhood’s residents.
 
The South Main Book Juggler is friendly to local authors. Andrus said she can’t carry books from every author who requests her to do so, but the store has a strong mix of local and regional authors.
 
Austin McLellan is one of those. He appreciates the store both as a customer and an author. He first came across the store during Trolley Night a few years ago, and his novel “Twenty Grand, A Love Story” has appeared in the store.



 
“They were excited about my new novel, and actually read it,” McLellan said. “They are true book lovers. … And even larger publishers these days have tight marketing budgets, so every bit of exposure can help a writer. The Book Juggler certainly adds something to the Downtown vibe.”
 
Who comes into the store somewhat depends on the day. If it’s during the week much of the foot traffic is tourists wandering in. The weekends see regular customers, many of whom live in the neighborhood.
 
The type of books customers look for varies, but Andrus said she sees a lot of people searching for old favorites.
 
“There are people who find a favorite book and they buy numerous copies so everywhere they go they buy a copy of it,” she said. “I can’t keep classics in the store, which I think is thrilling. We have a whole group of 20-somethings who are reading classics.”
 
The store is largely used books but there is a selection of new books as well, even though the pricing structure makes it more difficult. New books have a list price, so there isn’t much wiggle room on how much Andrus can make.
 
“But to stay alive I have to be able to order new books, and I do a lot of special orders for people,” she said.
 
In an age that sees the rise in e-readers and online shopping it seems like operating a bookstore should be a struggle. But Andrus said there is a push to support local businesses, including bookstores. This month, Memphis’ largest independently-owned bookstore, the Booksellers at Laurelwood, announced that it was closing due to poor sales.
 
“The reason for going to a bookstore rather than online is you get instant gratification rather than having to wait for it to be shipped,” she said.
 
“I think people like the community spirit of a local bookstore. There is the idea of having a third place. You have home, you have work and you have a third place that’s your community. And I think bookstores are a third place.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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