Map of NC

Map of NC

February 25, 2022

An Interview with Golden Fig Bookstore

Greetings and Happy Friday! The pandemic has impacted all of us, especially small businesses. The NC Literary Map will be utilizing the blog to interview independent bookstores in NC. The first of these bookstores we will be interviewing is Golden Fig Books, located in Durham NC. The store has been around since 2019 and owner, David Bradley, took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions. Thank you David!

1.      Why do you think the North Carolina Literary Map is important for bookstores?

·        I think the NC Literary Map is important for all book lovers! But particularly for bookstores because it's another way for people to find us if they want to support independent bookstores but don't quite know where to start. It's also a great way to see the deep literary history of our state!

2.      Tell us more about your store, including its history and location.  Why did you choose North Carolina?

·        Golden Fig is located right in the heart of Durham in the same building as the renowned bakery and restaurant Guglhupf! I went to UNC for college in 2007 and fell in love with the Triangle, so it's been where I've worked and lived for over a decade now and I knew it would be the perfect place to open up a bookshop. Golden Fig's primary focus is on gently used books, but we also highlight a selection of new books and children's books. We're a small shop (about 1,000 square feet) so we focus on filling our shelves with a highly-curated selection of titles we love. I opened the Fig in May of 2019, so we were not quite a year old when the pandemic hit. Thankfully, though, I had our website up and running before the store opened and customers ordering new books and browsing our entire used book selection on our website was instrumental in getting us through the months when we were closed for browsing. Now we're open for browsing again and are hoping to start having author readings and other events as we get the pandemic under control (fingers crossed).

3.      What is unique about your bookstore? Also, what types of books does your store stock and specialize in?

·        The Fig is unique in our selection and display of used books. We specialize in gently used books so a lot of the time people don't even realize our books are used until they check the price and see that it's half what they were expecting! We go to great lengths to find books for the store, so even though we are pretty picky about the condition of books we bring in, we still make sure we have a diverse and interesting selection of titles for people to peruse.

4.      What’s your favorite section of the store?

·        I almost feel like I should say the Children's section as that was where I slept in the weeks leading up to the store opening when I had too much to do to go home for the night. But my favorite section to look through is probably SciFi/Fantasy as that's one of my favorite genres to read and it's also right next to our curved wall of used fiction which might be my favorite physical feature of the store.

5.      If you had infinite space what would you add?

·        More books, obviously! We certainly use the Fig's smaller stature as a strength by curating and selecting as well as we possibly can but, as a book lover with hundreds and hundreds of books in my house, I will always have a desire for more books. Throw in a pizza oven and I probably wouldn't ever leave the shop.

6.      What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?

·        This is tough because my brain has not done a good job of retaining childhood memories, so I'm going to cheat and say it was my post-college bookstore road trip where I visited 44 independent bookstores across the country. I partnered with Algonquin Books (a publisher right in Chapel Hill) and wrote little feature articles about the bookstores I visited. It was this trip that really cemented my love of independent bookstores and my desire to be a bookseller which eventually led me to opening Golden Fig Books!

7.      What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?

·        The community! If you had told me that there'd be a pandemic within the first year we opened I honestly would not have expected to still be here. But the support from the community has been absolutely amazing and that's honestly the only way that we've been able to survive. Durham is an incredible city and seeing how many people have gone out of their way to lend us support and encouragement has really blown me away.

8.      If you weren’t running or working at a bookstore, what would you be doing?

·        Haha, this is the hardest question on here. I've been so focused on working in bookstores, saving up for the Fig, or actually opening it that I kinda can't imagine my life without it. I'll say that, without bookselling, I would have really honed my super rusty juggling skills and joined Cirque Du Soleil.

9.      What characteristics do you think a person needs to be a successful independent bookstore owner? What has been the key to your success?

·        I'm not sure that I'd say I've had success yet, honestly. I think the Fig is in a good place and heading in a good direction, but I don't think I'll call it a success until I'm able to pay myself and my employees not just a living wage, but a robust wage, while still providing the kind of customer service and community events that I envisioned when I first opened the store. Of course, like everything, the pandemic has had a major effect on what has been possible for us in these first few years so I'd say that the most important characteristic for independent bookstore owners to have is flexibility and a willingness to roll with the punches when the unexpected occurs.

10.   What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to your business?

·        Well the first two years I was the only one working at the shop, so I would be manning the counter for all 50+ hours the store was open each week and then would spend a lot of my free time working on the website, cleaning the shop, responding to emails, and searching everywhere for good used books to stock our shelves. Fortunately I now have a store manager, Es, who is a superstar and has helped me live a more balanced life. So now I spend closer to 30 hours a week at the shop and then do another 15-20ish hours of the more behind-the-scenes administrative work.

11.   What do you think the future looks like for independent booksellers?

·        After the way the last two years have gone I don't feel confident at all in making predictions about the future, but overall I think things are in a really positive place for independent bookstores. Not many people know but, prior to the pandemic, the number of independent bookstores in the country had grown for 8 or 9 consecutive years. I think people have come to realize that bookstores can be magical places of discovery and are important for creating and nurturing a community so they've really shown up to support the stores they care about. And Durham is a great example of a community doing exactly that.

12.   What advice do you have to offer to an author who would like to conduct an event at your store?

·        Well first I guess I'd say wait until the pandemic is under control enough for us to be comfortable doing events. But, aside from that, the biggest thing for us is that the author is interested in developing and maintaining a relationship with us and with the community. The Triangle is such a creative and artistic place so we have the good fortune of lots of local authors but that also means we have to be quite selective about the events that we host. So we're always going to be more likely to work with an author who has shown interest in us or in our community beyond just having their book featured. I'm actually in the midst of reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer which speaks so much about the ideas of giving and reciprocity, and that's very much how we like to operate with our local authors. It's about building relationships and community rather than simply selling a few books on a particular night.

13.   Do you think it’s important for a bookseller to be actively involved in the community? If so, how are you involved in your local community?

·        So this is actually a tricky question to me. The short answer is that, yes, it always helps for booksellers to be involved in their community as that exposes us to more people and ideas, which allows us to bring in books that speak to the specific problems our community may be facing.

·        However, I also think an expectation of community involvement outside of the job, especially in any specific capacity, is a rather dangerous prospect. Our store manager, Es, recently told me about the concept of Vocational Awe, which specifically relates to librarians but I feel has a fair amount of crossover to booksellers as well. It's the idea that, by considering libraries sacred places of inherent good, librarians become emotionally invested in their work as their primary sense of identity and feel encouraged to always do more and more and more for their jobs, despite low pay and at the expense of work/life balance. In the end, being a librarian or a bookseller is a job. It's a job that I love and believe is very valuable, but there shouldn't be anything required of booksellers beyond doing their job well.

14.   Who is one author you’d like to have dinner with, dead or alive?

·        I'm going to have to go with Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar had a huge impact on me when I was in college and struggling with depression without knowing what it was. It was the book that helped me understand what I was going through and figure out who I am, in a way. Plus I think Plath's writing is so beautiful, I could probably read anything by her and be amazed, so I'd love to know what she was like in person. The Bell Jar was also the inspiration behind the store's name so I'd love to share that with her.

15.   Is there anything else you’d like our followers to know?

·        I think I've rambled on quite long enough so I'll just say thanks for taking the time to read this and thanks to everyone who's supported the Fig in these turbulent times!

Would you like to visit Golden Fig? They are located at 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Durham, NC 27707. On their website, you can view the books they are selling, so if you can't make it in person, you can buy from them online.