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Plaza Midwood’s Book Buyers writes new chapter after being forced to close an old one

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Sarah Delia
Lee Rathers describes the impending move as bittersweet but is hopeful for the future.

There’s a certain comfort only a used bookstore can bring to a neighborhood. There’s the smell of well-worn pages, dogeared by a previous owner who decided it was time for someone new to love this story. Book Buyers in Charlotte has that smell. It hits you when you walk in the door.

The shop also has something all well-respected used bookstores do — a shop cat who walks right up to greet you. Her name is Deena, a green-eyed, gray-haired beauty who appears to be no stranger to a microphone.

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Sarah Delia
Friendly and focused, Deena the cat will greet you upon entering the store.

"Cats and books they kind of go hand in hand, I think, you know?" said Lee Rathers, the actual person who’s most likely to welcome you in.

"All this knowledge I’m around all the time, every day," she said. "It's great."

Rathers' father, Richard, opened the shop 22 years ago. The current space is some 4,000 square feet filled with tall shelves packed with genres of all kinds — biographies, fiction, the classics, poetry, self-help and religion — and that's just naming a few. Knickknacks accent any slice of free space. Bins of books to be reshelved sit in waiting. There's even a small vegan grocery shop at the front of the store called The Greener Apple.

It’s a well-curated, organized maze regulars and newcomers can easily navigate. Used bookstores each have their own personality, but some rules hold true for them all — they serve as a reflective, quiet place that hopefully holds what you’re searching for.

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Sarah Delia
The current space is some 4,000 square feet filled with tall shelves packed with genres of all kinds—biographies, fiction, the classics, poetry, self help, religion just to name a few.

Rathers turns to her dad, who seems to know the exact place each book belongs. She asks how many books are currently in the store.

"I counted them yesterday," he said. "Thirty-seven thousand."

The thought of how many boxes and trips it will take to move 37,000 books is a little daunting. Book Buyers got the news last week they’d have to be out, but it’s something they’ve been bracing for since the shopping complex in Charlotte's popular Plaza Midwood neighborhood sold last year.

The Subway next door recently closed. Rita’s Italian Ice has been vacant for over a year. Tenants are slowly disappearing from the complex, and now it’s Book Buyers' turn to go.

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Sarah Delia
Book Buyers has called Plaza Midwood home for 22 years.

"The way things had been going in Plaza Midwood, we just had a sinking feeling," Rathers said with a heavy sigh. "Are they going to keep this complex? Are they going to level it? Are they going to want us to be here? You know, all those questions, and we just never got any answers."

Last week, Book Buyers got a call from a representative for Eastern Federal Corp., which owns the building.

"He told us we were going to get a letter about having to go," Rathers said.

Eastern Federal Corp. wouldn’t give specifics about plans for the space and declined an interview request. In an emailed response, the company stated, “We have some exciting plans to refresh the shopping center and think that the neighborhood will enjoy the new design and new tenant mix.”

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Sarah Delia
Richard Rathers (left), Virginia O'Riley (center) and Lee Rathers (right) plan to write the store's next chapter a couple of miles down the road.

Of course, that leaves Rathers, her dad and Virginia O'Riley, who also helps run the shop, wondering what's next. Customers are wondering, too.

Book Buyers is looking east, like so many other Plaza Midwood businesses have had to do. Rathers says the shop is hoping for a spot in the Eastway Crossing shopping complex a couple of miles down the road.

"With all of the spaces being filled up by other Plaza Midwood businesses that had to leave, it's going to feel like the new Plaza Midwood over there — you know, like the community of ex-patriots of Plaza Midwood," Rathers said.

Plaza Midwood businesses like the Dog Salon, Tommy’s Pub, Open Door Studios, a Dairy Queen and Armada Skate Shop have all moved to Eastway Crossing. Rathers says Book Buyers hasn’t signed a lease yet but feels confident that’s where they are headed.

The new space is around the same size, she says, but she’s not sure everything will make the move. She pointed to a large, bright yellow airplane perched between the kid’s section and a small reading area. It’s a Piper J-3 Cub her dad piecemealed together over the years.

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Sarah Delia
What other used bookstore had a plane in the middle of it? Sadly, it may not make the move to the new spot.

The ceiling in the new spot isn’t quite as tall, she said with a slight sigh, and that really limits the placement of a large plane in a bookstore that already uses every inch of available space.

Rathers says she’s trying to stay focused on the fact that the business isn’t closing. The plan is to stay open in Plaza Midwood through Christmas and then begin the move.

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Sarah Delia
The reading area in the center of the store.

"I'm just trying to keep on the bright side: We want to stay in business and we want to keep this going," she said. "So, we're just going to do what we have to do and not dwell on having to leave the neighborhood, but, like, think about a new chapter, a new beginning."

Rathers pointed to the shelves of colorful books that surrounded her, and her eyes smiled behind her glasses. She loves that her family’s store has given these used books another chance to tell their stories.

"They've been owned by somebody else," Rathers said. "Somebody else enjoyed them and loved them and wanted to give them new life, and so they came here. And we want to keep that going."

And that’s what the store wants for itself: a second life. But that means closing this chapter in Plaza Midwood.

If you're interested in helping Book Buyers move, the staff asks you stop by the store at 1306 The Plaza .

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Sarah Delia
Deena the cat ready for her radio debut.

Sarah Delia covers criminal justice and the arts for WFAE. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.