Attention all personel ... incoming owners
The book industry is changing, but the new owners of Black Bear Books in Boone believe people still like browsing a local, independent bookstore.
Karen Hall and Chris Walker have owned property in the area for nine years, often visiting in the summer, and they decided it was time to settle down and find a way to spend their time and energy in Boone. A gem enthusiast, Karen learned from Doc's Rocks Gem Mine that Black Bear Books was for sale, and she and Chris jumped between the stacks with both feet, though their primary experience in the business was a joint love of literature.
"We were up here this summer and wanted to find something to do," Karen said. "I've been in a lot of bookstores, but this was the first one I thought I'd like to own."
In fact, it was books that brought Karen and Chris together as a couple, and their story has so far had a Hollywood ending. Karen knew she wanted to be a writer at age 6, and she and her sister Barbara Hall, now an author herself, used to kick stories back and forth in an attempt to stump one another. Karen ending up taking a screenwriting class at the University of Richmond in Virginia because the class was going to Hollywood for a few weeks.
While there, Karen met actor Alan Alda, who read her work and encouraged her. Karen was writing for the television show "Eight is Enough" when she was approached to write a script for the popular television series "M*A*S*H," which starred Alda as Hawkeye Pierce.
She was one of the show's main writers, and the only female writer, for the long-running series. She went on to write or produce for "Hill Street Blues," "Moonlighting," "I'll Fly Away," "Northern Exposure," "Judging Amy" and "Third Watch," among others.
But it was her first novel, "Dark Debts," that led to her belated marriage to Chris. High school sweethearts, they parted ways and Karen thought Chris wasn't interested in her. Twnety-five years later, Chris found out about the novel and wrote to her, and following a flurry of airplane rides, they eventually settled down and now are parents of 8-year-old Caleb.
While Karen still writes some pilot episodes for television, she and Chris are busy setting up their Valle Crucis home while getting the store ready for the Christmas rush.
"We both love books," Chris said. "We're big readers. We want to settle in and learn, and it's been great so far. We've met a lot of wonderful people."
To that end, along with existing staff, the couple wants to build diversity while also making the store a cozy hang-out. "I'm always looking for the right place to sit and write a novel," Karen said. "We'd like to make it fun and comfortable, and make it a place where people drop by and have coffee before work."
Chris said he's passionate about small business and working with local business owners to build community. He also appreciates the impact of Appalachian State University, though locals and tourists are also valued. "We like the diversity of Boone a lot," Chris said.
"We want a mix of people," Karen said. "We want everyone to feel like they're welcome here."
Karen also plans to teach writing workshops at the store and turn it into a writer's gathering place, as well as a place where people can lounge on a sofa and not be in a rush. She's also undaunted about the conventional wisdom that claims bookstores are a dying niche.
"I just refuse to believe people are going to stop reading," she said.
The store plans to add gems, toys, and gifts, as well as cross-promotions with other local businesses. The store offers discounts for teachers, students, special orders and book-club orders, and also has coffee available from Bald Guy Brew. For the day after Thanksgiving, the store will have free coffee and hot chocolate as well as deeply discounted books.
The store is located at 2146 Blowing Rock Road in Boone. Radar O'Reilly already knows you're on your way.