Union Avenue Books Set to Open

After some setbacks, Knoxville may soon have a new-books store again

Union Avenue Books, love child of the late Carpe Librum, will be opening soon, as previously announced, but there have been some changes that delayed its opening.

Bearden’s Carpe Librum closed four months ago, leaving Knoxville without a full-service independent bookstore. Flossie McNabb, one of the original partners of Carpe Librum, has led an effort to carry Carpe Librum’s spirit downtown into a smaller space in the newly rehabbed 1920s Daylight Building on Union near Walnut, where several new retailers are open or soon to open. Union Avenue Books will employ some of Carpe Librum’s old staff, including Sheila Woods-Navarro and Flossie’s daughter, Bunnie Presswood, who will officially be a part-owner as well.

However, previously announced partners Kaveh and Mary Dabir, owners of Mr. K’s Books in Oak Ridge, a chain that deals primarily in used books, are no longer part of the project, apparently due to some creative differences.

McNabb has new partners: well-known attorney Melinda Meador, a longtime patron of Carpe Librum, and her son, Jake Knanishu, who’s currently a student at Washington University in St. Louis. “We’re almost a go,” reports McNabb, “just some final papers that will make it official. We’re planning a soft opening on June 1 and a grand opening on June 18.”

McNabb says they’ll still sell a combination of new and high-quality used books. As before, they’ll stock a healthy children’s section.

The store at 517 Union already looks cheerful and bright, with hundreds of books on its shelves and tables—through the big windows you can see stacks of the brand-new Jean Auel novel, the Coco Chanel biography, the latest Kurt Wallander thriller, cards on a rack, and local books, in the same spot in the store where they used to be at Carpe Librum. Its website, unionavebooks.com, is advertised on the door.

It’s a tough time for bookstores nationally, but those independent bookstores that do thrive, like Asheville’s Malaprops, often do so in urban settings. About a block from Market Square, ensconced in a building with several other new businesses—an already-open photography studio, an about-to-open grocery, and a stationery and printing shop, with Pete’s popular restaurant across the street—Union Avenue Books may be better positioned for drop-in browsing and impulse shopping than Carpe Librum was in its former location in an off-the-beaten-track strip center. It might also get more traffic from tourists and newcomers lately evident wandering the sidewalks, as well as from University of Tennessee students and faculty, many of whom live downtown now.

Downtown has seen several interesting and mostly idiosyncratic bookstores over the years, each emphasizing esoteric subjects or eccentric approaches. Most haven’t lasted very long. Union Avenue Books will be the first general-interest new-books store downtown since Gateway closed about 20 years ago. Maybe it will answer a question some have begun to ask: Now that we’re downtown and very well fed, what do we do now?

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