Black Bear Books to close
It all started with a love of books.
Karen Walker grew up loving books and became a professional writer at age 24. From there, her love for books only grew.
“Well, I’ve been book crazy all my life,” Walker said. “So I just love bookstores.”
Walker, owner of Black Bear Books in Boone, alongside her husband, Chris, has seen both ups and downs since they purchased the business in November 2009. However, the most recent down for the bookstore is one the Walkers cannot overcome.
On June 29, Black Bear Books will close its doors for the last time under the Walkers’ ownership.
“I think there are just not enough people to support an independent bookstore,” Walker said.
Though Walker has arrived at this conclusion now in 2014, initially she did not feel that way about the small, independent store.
In 2009, Walker first found her way to Black Bear Books.
“I was walking around, I was really excited that Boone had an independent bookstore, and this thought just came to me out of the sky that I thought I would like to own this bookstore,” Walker said. “I thought, it’s a size I could handle, I feel like I could really do good things with it.”
Not long after Walker’s visit, she received word the store was for sale and that November, Walker and her husband made the purchase.
“I’d never really had any desire to own a bookstore,” Walker said. “I never had any desire to be a salesperson of any type. I guess it just came from loving books so much.”
The store was originally located where AppUrgent Care currently stands, but Walker decided to move it into the Boone Mall where foot traffic would be a little higher and rent would be a little less. Though things weren’t particularly easygoing for the Walkers at the beginning, they were able to keep the doors open.
As winter hit, it brought with it a maelstrom of ice, snow and bad luck for the Walkers.
“We had over 80 inches of snow and three ice storms, and we lost every weekend of December, which is when you do huge weekends,” Walker said. “So, that really hurt us.”
Walker sought assistance from a federal program to no avail. Losing $30,000 was not enough to receive aid.
After that, Walker said, she felt like they figured out how to make the store run and were cruising along. Then the Walkers encountered another wall, as business declined at a rapid rate due to the off-season in Boone. Walker said the store did well June through Christmas, but following that peak time, business “drops off a cliff” and the same rent was due when people weren’t shopping as when they were.
“Winters were always hard, and every winter we would think, you know, should we give up,” Walker said. “We kept putting our own money into it, because we just wanted to try to keep it open, maybe the economy would get better, so we did that long enough, and we kind of ran out of our own money, so I thought, I still think, we can get the town to support it just enough the keep the doors open.”
Another blow hit the struggling store soon after.
“We were kind of cruising along, and then in January of 2013, we found out that the manager had been embezzling,” Walker said. “And we still don’t know the full total, because we’re still waiting for some of the bank statements, but it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars.”
Though this was a huge blow to the Walkers, they tried to keep the store open through fundraisers and their own investments.
Three months ago, the Walkers received a phone call from the IRS, saying they owed around $35,000 in back taxes. They set up a payment plan, but the Walkers couldn’t afford to pay double taxes and so made the final decision to close the store.
“It was kind of a perfect storm of things, but it was the embezzlement and the taxes that was really the nail in the coffin for us,” Walker said.
To Walker, every town should have an independent bookstore. She loves how books look, feel and smell and is going to miss her small store when the doors finally close for the last time.
“I hate that I’m going to be living in a town with no bookstore, and I can’t go in and look at books, and I’ve got to order them on Amazon,” Walker said.
Right now, the store is maintaining a section of popular summer books, and the books it doesn’t sell by the time it closes will be donated to the Watauga County Public Library.
“I think it’s really sad they’re closing,” customer Brian Mooney said. “It was my favorite locally owned bookstore in the country. I love it.”
Mooney and his family have been visiting the Boone area since the ’90s. His father, Robert Mooney, wrote a novel, “Loup Garou,” based on a local Louisiana legend, in which he mentioned Black Bear Books.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that bookstores are closing down and everybody is moving to ordering books online,” Mooney said. “I mean, it makes sense, it’s easier, but it hurts the local economy.”