M. Judson Booksellers & Storytellers, a vibrant, new independent bookstore set to open by midsummer in Greenville, South Carolina, is the collaboration of co-owners Tricia Lightweis, former owner of The Booksmith in Seneca, South Carolina; June Wilcox, a local entrepreneur; Samantha Wallace, publisher of edible Upcountry magazine; and Ashley Warlick, a Greenville author and editor of edible Upcountry.
More than two years in the making, the bookstore and café will be a welcome addition to the central business district of downtown Greenville, where there hasn’t been a bookstore since Bentley’s Bookshop shuttered in 2006.
Housed on the first floor of the Greenville Family Court building, which is on the national register of historic places, M. Judson takes its name from the 19th-century figure Mary Camilla Judson, the founder of the all-female Judson Literary Society and the principal of the Greenville Female College, where she taught lessons in English literature and composition, physics, botany, logic, and other subjects. Now, Lightweis, Wilcox, Wallace, and Warlick consider Judson the patron saint of the bookstore.
As renovations continue, the 5,000-square-foot space — once occupied by small offices and a bright purple carpet — will soon be divided into a sales floor, an office space, and a kitchen for the bookstore’s café. “We’ve completely reimagined this space, sometimes with respect to the needs of a bookstore, and sometimes in the spirit of the historic building,” said Warlick. “We are wildly excited by the progress every time we check in on it, but, of course, we wish we were open yesterday.”
M. Judson will benefit from the combined strengths of its founders. “We all started dreaming of what a bookstore could be, and should be, in this climate of less-friendly attitudes toward giant online retailers and big box stores,” said Warlick. “Between the four of us, we kind of cover the compass, with industry experience from both sides of the book world and small business experience galore.”
As the holidays approached last year, an M. Judson pop-up shop brought a unique shopping experience, complete with author events and cookbook samples, to Greenville’s downtown area. The pop-up shop, which occupied a tent at the foot of the old Court House during several weekends in November and December, was met with enthusiasm from the community, which is looking forward to a permanent bookstore coming to the area.
“We were delighted by the response,” said Warlick. “There’s definitely a community demand for what we’re creating, and we couldn’t have landed in a better spot with our store, right in the middle of all the bustling foot traffic in Greenville’s award-winning downtown.”
Inside M. Judson, customers will find a focused inventory, highlighting books on food, homemade and handmade life, the South, and children’s titles. Kitchen items, journals, tablet and e-reader accessories, and artisan-made gifts will fill out the stock. “In deciding to specialize in these areas, we’ve been amazed at the depth and breadth of our selection,” said Warlick. “We truly carry something for every kind of reader, and lots of times, written by authors who live just down the road.”
Between Warlick and Wallace, who have each worked on edible Upcountry for several years, plenty of thought has gone into showcasing local foods in the shop. “Just like we’ve envisioned with our books and gifts, everything in our café will be thoughtfully sourced, prepared, and hand-selected,” said Warlick. The café will offer seasonally inspired small plates, using ingredients from local farmers, and treats from featured cookbooks. Also on the menu will be wine, beer, coffee, tea, and house-made syrups for beverages.
Once the store is up and running, the calendar will be filled with author events, book clubs, and classes in the shop’s community room. Authors will be invited to start their readings by sharing with the audience a book that influenced their careers, in particular a food book, Southern book, or children’s title. “Writers are the best readers, and their recommendations are pure gold,” said Warlick.
Other visions for events include yoga classes and movie nights on the back patio, as well as partnerships on big events with Greenville’s literary community, which includes Furman University and the Emrys Foundation, a local literary arts organization. At the checkout, the Round Up for Reading program will allow customers to round their purchase up to the next whole dollar, with proceeds going to literacy and literary arts in Greenville County.
“We want to be a very modern kind of bookstore. Not just a place to buy books, but a place where books become more than just paper and type,” Warlick said.