Shakespeare and Company Booksellers, Highlands NC
BACKROADS BOOKSTORES, literary rambles from sea to shining sea.
Highlands is a mountaintop village in Macon County, North Carolina in the southern Appalachian Mountains, within the Nantahala National Forest. The elevation is just over 4,000 feet, making it one of the highest incorporated municipalities east of the Mississippi. the full time residents number just under 1000 but the population swells to over 20,000 during the summer season.
I spend a good amount of time in Cashiers, North Carolina which sits proudly at the crossroads of U.S. Route 64 and North Carolina Highway 107. It is a world away from chaos. U.S Route 64 stretches from Whale Bone Junction, North Carolina to Teec Nos Pos, Arizona. I’ve found several Backroads Bookstores in communities along the western mountains section of Route 64: Hendersonville, Brevard, Highlands, and Franklin. And it is just a short detour to Tryon, Sylva and Waynesville, each sporting a vital bookshop.
Just off Main Street in Highlands, tucked into a leafy enclave, (with no street signs because of zoning restrictions) you will discover Katherine Willoughby’s Shakespeare and Company Bookseller. Katherine began the shop with her own collection of books in 1991 and quickly expanded to serve the literary needs of Highlands.
“Love of the written word was the impetus for Shakespeare and Company. George Whitman the owner of Shakespeare and Company in Paris, encouraged Katherine Willoughby to open her book store in Highlands: and just like in Paris, readers are encouraged to browse the collection of new and used tomes or join one of the groups that meet there.” Laurel Magazine.
One sunny afternoon in May, I rambled upon Katherine and her friend, Chip Wilson, having an elegant European styled lunch on the patio in front of the store. I thought they had ordered from the chef next door but after lunch, Katherine returned their dishes to her kitchen above the bookstore. We talked of books and movies, Europe, Alabama and bear sightings while store dog Rugby lounged at their feet.
Katherine had just returned from Florida to open the store for the season. Chip returned from Fair Hope Alabama. Chip explained that Katherine had boxes and boxes of unpacked books that she acquired off season at various estates and markets. The two companionable and intelligent women grew up as neighbors in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan but they never actually met (That would never happen in the quaint villages along U.S. Route 64) until their vastly different paths finally converged in Highlands where they discovered their mutual love of books.
In Shakespeare and Company you will find a wide range of used and new books, including fiction, poetry, art, history, religion, reference, games,cooking, natural history and North Carolina subjects. The store also hosts readings and signings. Like the Paris store, there is a writer’s guest house for visiting authors.
As seems true in most villages, the local bookstores do much more than sell books. Shakespeare and Company is a gathering place for book lovers.
Chip Wilson, author of “Inn and Out: Memoirs of a Southern Innkeeper,” hosts Wednesday afternoon (3:30 p.m.) book discussions and serves tea and home-made treats. The effervescent Chip is a great facilitator and she gets the most out of her visitors—even the shy ones. They have delicious refreshments from Fresser’s (their courtyard neighbor) and then talk about whatever books have recently captivated them. It’s all very casual and relaxed, and it’s free.
Local artist and author, Diane McPhail (aka Nonnie) is hosting “Nonnie’s Book of the Month Club and Story Hour” for Children on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11 am. The Nonnie book of the Month Club and Story Hour grew out of something by the same name that Diane did for each of her grandchildren: Twin boys now 13, and a 6 year-old granddaughter. She happened to see an article in Shelf Awareness Pro on a bookstore setting up a children ’s book-of-the-month and posted it. From there she suggested to Katherine that they do something similar here for the summer—so many grandparents and kids out of school. Diane has been wanting to spend more time with children as her twins move toward adolescence. “This just evolved like magic into a twice a week reading hour with the kids.”
Highlands is a thriving mountain village. Nearby is the public Highlands School, as well as the public Hudson Library. The Bascom is a nonprofit visual arts center that is housed on a six-building, six-acre campus, and offers exhibitions and educational programs.
Shakespeare and Company Bookseller. 204 N. 5th St. Highlands, NC 28741. 828-526-3777. firstname.lastname@example.org