She joined veteran former Random House representative Karen Hayes to found Parnassus Books, which holds its formal grand opening Saturday, in time for Christmas shoppers. Meanwhile, Patchett has become a media evangelist urging booklovers to bypass online discounts to keep bricks and mortar bookstores alive.
It's not that she was looking to be the owner of a small business, but when she met Hayes, who was taking early retirement from her job at Random House, and was looking for her next career, Patchett realized she could be a driving force behind the effort.
And although she didn’t set out to be a public advocate for independent bookstores, Patchett has embraced that role.
The novelist now tells people they don’t have to accept the inevitable loss of bookstores. “Be willing to pay a little more for your book, and you get a smart person to recommend books, jobs for your community, and a tax base,’’ she said.
So far, the Parnassus story is following a classic underdog victory plot. The partners found a sympathetic landlord in Nashville’s major shopping district, Green Hills. Among the flood of job applicants, some offered to work for free. A membership drive yielded cash contributions, and a musician donated a piano.
But can even a popular hometown author succeed where so many have failed, including a huge chain that went bankrupt?
Independent booksellers have been facing fierce competitive pressures from discount sellers, including bookstore chains, big-box stores and Amazon. Now e-books offer a cheaper alternative to print. What’s more, customers these days cruise bookstores like showrooms, then go home and buy online.
Patchett and Hayes took advice from indie booksellers nationwide who survived, and Parnassus became an “homage’’ to those creative mentors, the novelist said.
The Parnassus opening ceremonies reflect its master plan to become a “community center,’’ Hayes said. All-day author readings start with children’s books, then fill the evening with grown-up fare. “We want to make sure this store appeals to all ages,’’ she said.
Parnassus will reach out to the rich population of artists of all types in Nashville, known as “Music City.’’ Rolling bookshelves can clear space in the 2,500 square-foot store for performances and readings, while the walls will feature local artwork.