The little bookstore that evolved

One of the cozy nooks of Burry Bookstore. Photo by Jana E. Pye

One of the cozy nooks of Burry Bookstore.
Photo by Jana E. Pye

By Jana E. Pye, Editor,

We book people, we are a different breed. Let us wander into a bookstore or a library, and you may not be able to coax us to leave. Even with the advent of e-readers, such as Kindle and Nook, we still like the feel of a book in our hands, and enjoy the discovery of finding a book that almost seems meant for us to find at a particular time. And with the monster bookseller Amazon dominating the market, stores are closing; finding a bookstore to shop in is a delight.’

That is what makes “new” Burry Bookstore in Hartsville so very special. The bookstore received a transformation, much like their new logo of a Monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis designed by local artist Jennifer Webb.
But what some shoppers may not realize is that the new owner had undergone quite a transformation herself.
“Little did I know what was ahead for me,” said new owner, Sandi Brown. “I was on a whole different track. It was wonderful and rewarding, and the sense of accomplishment was great. I loved it, but it was just time for me to shift gears and do something different. Now, the joy inside my heart has been phenomenal.”

The bookstore that had been part of the community since 1972 from Charles Burry, and his daughter Emily Burry Phillips

“I, like many in town when we saw the email from Emily in January (that said that the store was either going to be closed or be sold), it just really struck me,” said Brown. “It was like I felt God pressing on my heart and I just remember thinking, but I can’t do anything about this. I know I feel like I have to swoop in and save everything because that’s just my nature. It’s silly and I know I can’t save everything. But I always feel like I want to try to save things and I remember thinking… you know nothing about retail. You know how to operate a nuclear plant, you know how to lead an organization, and what is involved in the operation of a nuclear plant, but you don’t know a thing about retail. And you don’t know a thing about a bookstore, except for the fact that- like many others- you love books.”

Sandi Brown, owner of Burry Bookstore Photo by Jana E. Pye

Sandi Brown, owner of Burry Bookstore
Photo by Jana E. Pye

Brown had recently taken a leave of absence from her career in nuclear power.

“I was trying to reinvent myself looking for what my calling was, what was going to really fulfill me… where I could really give back. I was done striving. I had done enough for me, and achieved what I wanted to achieve. I’d done for me for 20 years. It was time to figure out where I was I best able to do for others.”

She went on to apply for several positions, and firmed up what she felt was her personal mission statement based on a Bible study she completed called “Dare to Dream” which encourages people to come up with their life purpose.
“And that really struck me,” continued Brown. “I was trying to figure out how do I manifest doing that, so I was looking for different jobs. I had this one possible opportunity that felt like ‘this is an area where I can share my skills and it won’t be about me, it’ll be about others.’ But, there were a few things I was going through in my life where I wasn’t sure I could balance the pressures of that position and what was going on at that time and be fully effective in helping. Right about that time, in early March, I had emailed Emily and said, ‘The Lord has been pressing on my heart about potentially buying this business – I don’t understand it but if you are willing to talk to me, I would love to see whether this is something that might happen’.”

At the time, two investors were interested in Burry Bookstore, so Brown took it as a sign that the bookstore was fine.

But, by the end of March, she received an email back from Emily that the investors had decided not to purchase. “She asked, ‘would you like to talk on Friday?’ – which was Good Friday, at Easter. I already had plans to go out of town so I said, ‘how about the following week’ then I headed to bed. But, I could not sleep. I could picture the store, and I could picture what I wanted to do with it, and picture how it would be giving back,” continued Brown. “It would be my personal mission statement of developing others, and finding ways to help women or girls in leadership and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and also others. I could see how this could be the vehicle for that potentially- I couldn’t sleep.”

Brown went on to contact Phillips, and the two women later met and spent 2 ½ hours discussing how the sale could work with a twist; one of the interested investors, used book seller Walls of Books, was happy to do a franchise.
Brown went on to secure financing, work with Walls of Books for assistance on setup and layout of the store. “So I kept stepping, and every time I would take the reins and make things happen, it would be like the brakes would go on. And every time I would surrender to God, everything would start flowing again. It was amazing. And then when we shut down, I am using nuclear terminology,” Brown laughed. “But, it totally felt like an outage. We were committed to opening on August 31st (the original date of the opening of Burry Bookstore in 1972) We shut down on August 6th and it just started happening. It was amazing to watch the team pull together, and to see how we all helped each other out. We didn’t get all bent out of shape when something didn’t work out, we just said okay -what is the solution? and we worked as a team. And it was amazing how committed everybody was to the date. People were stepping out of role – we had electricians helping us unload the refrigerator, you know, that kind of thing. People had the bigger picture in mind the whole time and it was just really heartwarming to see everybody do that.”

Former owner of the Midnight Rooster, Jessie Avant Smith, assisted with the redesign of the interior, which features lovely wood floors and a warm color palette of natural hues, including an accent wall in the rear of orange that is a the perfect backdrop for story telling and musical performers.

The book collection is huge; the first shipment from Walls of Books was over 24,000 books, added to the 5,000 already in the store. The collection includes used and new books.

“Since then we have increased the number,” said Brown. “We continue to get trade ins all the time which is wonderful because we are getting books we know people are going to like, and allows it to be shared again.”

A large selection of children’s toys is available for purchase; most are from toy company Melissa and Doug, but Brown is going to sell GoldiBlox, a company that makes engineering blocks marketed to little girls that is decidedly not pink, but delights Brown in the fact that they encourage STEM play, something that she holds near and dear.

Neighbors of the bookstore Crema Coffee Bar (owned by Tiffany Moan) and Frets and Necks (owned by luthier Boot Arreola) frequently collaborate on events; delicious free coffee from Crema is available for customers to enjoy while they browse books, gifts, and items from TinCan (the “store within a store”- TinCan – a paper boutique is featured in the center of Burry Bookstore); music is often performed inside the bookshop as part of an ongoing concert series from Frets and Necks.

Brown also will be partnering with Black Creek Arts Center to host author events in conjunction with art events, as the camaraderie of the downtown grows larger than the confines of just one area.

“Promoting literacy, promoting growth, and all of that comes back to my personal mission statement,” said Brown. “The vision, well, what was put into me – it’s not my vision, but the vision of this being a place where the community becomes a family, and the family’s dreams grow wings. And that’s the key. And I am already getting to see that happening,” Brown leans in and whispers, “And that is really, really fun.”

Burry Bookstore’s new hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Future plans include regular storytellers, and monthly music events called Shop Hop; the next will be December 19th from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The store can assist schools and churches in ordering books and supplies; a free book is available for book clubs to help choose books for their club, and they may use either of the two cozy sitting areas in the store or the conference room for their events.

A conference room is available for hosting events, meetings, and birthday parties; it is equipped with a preparation area available for caterers.

The “Dare to Dream” Bible study that inspired Brown will be held at Burry’s sometime in January. Burry Bookstore is located at 130 W Carolina Ave, Hartsville, S.C. 843-332-2511. Mobile users, please click this link to view slideshow of photos: Burry Bookstore 2015

Exterior of Burry Bookstore Photo by Jana E. Pye

Exterior of Burry Bookstore
Photo by Jana E. Pye

Author: Jana Pye

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