Fairhope's Page and Palette, A Utopia for Literary Lovers

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In 1894, on a bluff overlooking Mobile Bay, Fairhope, Alabama, was established. It was the dream of Fairhope’s founders to put into practice the utopian ideals of Henry George, who, in his late-19th century work, Progress and Poverty, outlined his philosophy on how a society could evolve without poverty. Some 108 years later, Fairhope (population 12,000), is a thriving artistic and literary community, a tourist attraction, and home to many retirees. Not surprisingly -- since it was a book that inspired the founding of this Southern community -- one of the landmarks of this unique, progressive town is an independent bookstore, Page and Palette.

Betty Joe Wolff established Page and Palette 32 years ago as a book and art supplies store. After she "retired" five years ago (she eventually opened a second Page and Palette in Orange Beach, and, at age 76, she still runs it), her granddaughter, Karin Wilson, took over the store. Since then, Page and Palette has gone through a rapid expansion. It has diversified its business with a coffee shop, a large children’s department, stationery, and soon, teacher resources.

From left: Meghan Fancher, book department manager; Leslye Scheller, stationery manager; Suzanne Williamson, coffeeshop manager; Jennifer Calhoun; Tina Baker, children's department manager; Kiefer Wilson, husband & co-owner; Caren Reid; Karin Wilson (front).

"The book department is what we focus most on, and takes up the most square footage in the store," Wilson told BTW, and she added that books and art supplies are two ingredients that still make "us successful in a town rich in the arts and literacy."

A little over a year ago, the store joined the Book Sense program. "We use the 76 bestseller list instead of the New York Times," said Wilson. "That goes for all departments -- we’ll refer to a book as a Book Sense bestseller." She added that she believes the 76 list is much more in touch with the independent bookstore than the Times bestseller list, which, she said, is "geared more toward chains. Independents do not market the same type of books."

Another important part of Page and Palette’s Book Sense program is the gift certificates, Wilson said. The gift certificate program has been hugely successful, owing in part to the town’s large retirement community. "The gift certificates have been more successful than I thought they would be," she said. "We sold a lot at Christmas time. This is a retirement community, and they buy a lot for relatives elsewhere."

Over the years, Page and Palette has become the center of the town’s many cultural activities. From the spring to the fall, it holds weekly author readings or other literary events. This Saturday, May 18, for instance, children’s author Kim Kennedy and illustrator Doug Kennedy will be appearing at the store.

Furthermore, the store sponsors an annual "Meet the Author" luncheon to benefit the Eastern Shore Literacy Council, which was started by Wolff in 1993. The event is held at Fairhope’s Grand Hotel and regularly draws a crowd of over 350. The event generally features Southern writers and, in the past, has hosted authors Mark Childress, Carolyn Haines, Rick Bragg, and Winston Groom, to name a few. This year, Ann B. Ross is tentatively scheduled to speak.

Wilson told BTW that the store is fortunate to be in a community that is so supportive of the independent bookstore, and "we are always thinking of ways to give back." -- David Grogan