By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Both big readers and best friends, running a bookstore seemed like a natural step for Wilma Bury and Anne Hess.
For nearly 20 years, the pair have owned and operated Hearthside Books in the Southpoint Plaza on Bland Street in Bluefield.
Both Bury and Hess said their love of books stretches back to childhood.
“Obviously, I love books and that’s why I loved the idea of opening a book store,” Bury said. “I love to travel and I have gotten to travel to quite a few places I’ve read about, but reading was my first way of traveling places. I have gotten to go to so many places through books.”
“I’ve been reading ever since I can remember,” Hess said. “It’s my biggest hobby and still is. I use the library all the time. Wilma and I would always talk about books and traded books. She’s a big library user to. We still do that now. If there is something you love, then that is the best thing for you to go into business for.”
The idea to open a bookstore came from a vacation Bury took to Oregon.
“I was teaching and had been substitute teaching for eight years when my husband and I went on vacation to the Pacific Northwest where he is from,” Bury said. “We went into a book store called Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland and I told my husband that I wanted to open a book store just like that one. Anne and I were friends, and I knew she not only loved books as much as I did but had a business degree. I knew she would be the perfect person to be my partner.”
Hess said it surprised her when her friend proposed the idea of opening a store together.
“I still remember we were sitting at the table on my porch,” Hess said. “She was telling me about their trip and everything they did on vacation, about the book store, and then she asked me if I wanted to open a book store with her. It surprised me a little because Wilma isn’t a big risk taker.”
Bury said she was nervous on the store’s opening day.
“On May 1, 1993 we opened our doors,” Bury said. “I broke out in hives that first day we opened because I was so nervous. We’ve been here almost 20 years now, in the exact same building.”
Hess said having an independently owned bookstore is essential to communities like Bluefield.
“People want a community store, which we are,” Hess said. “We love books and talk to our customers about books. We can give them recommendations. Customers will ask for a recommendation from us for their children, grandchildren or a friend. We can get used, out-of-print books you can’t find anywhere else.”
Bury said the fact that the bookstore is community based allows her and Hess to develop personal relationships with their customers.
“We get some really quirky characters in here,” Bury said. “We get really attached to our customers, and we have had some pass on who we really miss. If we see an old order form or a book by an author they enjoyed comes out, we will think of them and it makes you feel a little sad. I think people are looking for something unique and different, not like your big box store where everything is so impersonal. They want that personalized service we provide.”
“In 20 years, we have met some wonderful people,” Hess said. “We have gotten involved with them, learned their favorites and they become like family. We have so many people who tell us how happy they are that we are here. It is wonderful when they tell us they appreciate what we do.”
Bury said the shop also draws customers from out of the area.
“A lot of people believe and take pride in shopping locally,” Bury said. “People from out of town will also come in to the store when they are here to visit. They say that we have a lovely, quaint shop.”
Hess said many community-based bookstores are disappearing.
“A lot of places don’t have a bookstore anymore,” Hess said. “A lot of people in big cities have lost their bookstores and they come here and appreciate what we do here. They tell us how much they miss having a story like this.”
Bury said the store is also important for local and regional authors.
“We have a lot of regional books,” Bury said. “We are known to local authors as a place where everyone can see their books. We have a lot of signings for them as well.”
“Local authors are unique to us,” Hess said. “Some of our best-sellers are local writers like Bill Archer, Charlie Shrader and Robert Merritt have been really successful here. Henry D. Smith is another signing we are getting ready to do. When you have a local book for sale, you are supporting local authors. It’s a good place for these authors to tell their friends and families to come get their book.”
Additionally, Hess said running the store gives her and Bury a first look at new books and upcoming authors.
“One of the great things about running a book store is we get to see books and read them, sometimes even before they are published,” Hess said. “We get to meet authors and get our books signed when we go to conventions. A lot of the authors we have met have gone on to be famous. We were the very first people in line at Homer Hickam’s very first book signing. He came to our store a few months later in November 1988 for one of our very first big book signings. His book’s sold out before he even got here. Adriana Trigiani, Jeanette Walls, I got to meet Janet Evanovich at a convention at Opryland. I met her in an elevator there and she signed my book. We were at one of Nicholas Sparks’ first book signings before most people even knew who he was.”
Bury has also had her fair share of run-ins with famous authors.
“We met Charlaine Harris of the Sookie Stackhouse series before she was even famous,” Bury said. “I had her sign a book from one of the previous series she had written. We met her at a book convention and got to sit with her at dinner that night. She knew exactly where Bluefield was when we mentioned that was where our bookstore was. A few years ago I went to a book convention in New York City with my husband. He was standing in line to get a book I wanted while I was attending a luncheon. The woman in front of him said she was from Portland and he told her that I had been inspired to open my own bookstore after visiting Annie Bloom’s there. She told him that was her store. There are thousands of people who attend these big book conventions, so it was amazing that he would run into her.”
According to Bury, when the two women aren’t in the shop they can often be found walking together every morning.
“The entire time we have worked together we have walked together every morning,” Bury said. “Everyone in Bluefield has seen us out walking. They’ll tell us that they saw us walking. We do it every day, even if it snows or rains or there’s sleet. We hold ‘board meetings’ while we walk. We always talk about the business while we walk. We may only talk about it for five minutes or up to an hour. A lot of people say you won’t stay friends with someone if you go into business with them, but for us that isn’t true.”
Hess said the two are now closer than when they began the store.
“I think of Wilma as family,” she said. “ We’ve crossed that line into family.”
— Contact Kate Coil at