There’s no denying that the rise of online retailers like Amazon has made it difficult for many bookstores to stay in business. From the day Parnassus Books first opened in Nashville in 2011, they have focused on getting to know the community and providing the kind of experiences and events their customers enjoy – things no online retailer can do.
Mary Grey James, the store’s Manager of Books for Young Readers, says, “One thing we hear almost every day is, ‘I just love the feel of holding a real book when I’m reading.’ Many of the people saying this were enamored with electronic readers and ordering books online for a while, but they have gone back to reading ‘real’ books. Also, they know that a brick-and-mortar store can provide things the internet cannot, such as expert recommendations and signed copies by visiting authors.
“It is truly a community-based store,” she continues. “We know our clientele and buy the books they want. We also have events that bring the community together; not only with visiting authors, but children’s events and musical presentations. As an example, every fourth Saturday of the month, the Nashville Jazz Workshop puts on a performance of live jazz that’s free to the public. We also partner with the library and schools for events.”
For those who love passing time in an old-fashioned bookstore lined with real wooden shelves and whimsical details, furnished with comfy leather chairs, and staffed by helpful and knowledgeable fellow readers, Parnassus is a delight. It was named as a reference to Nashville being the “Athens of the South,” and also as an homage to Parnassus on Wheels, a favorite book of Karen Hayes, one of the store’s owners. Voted the Best Bookstore in Nashville by locals, Parnassus has been getting attention from folks elsewhere, too: “Because one of our owners, Ann Patchett, is an internationally recognized author, we have received favorable reviews and articles from all over the world. Ann was named one of Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’ because of the opening of an independent bookstore,” Mary Grey says.
When I stopped in to visit the store this week to take photos, I didn’t have a lot of time to browse, but couldn’t resist an inviting display of Moleskine notebooks. As bookseller Donna Nicely rang up my purchases and put them in one of our classic kraft bags – custom printed with the beautiful Parnassus logo – she commented on how sturdy the bags are: “Perfect for holding a stack of books!” I’m planning to go back again soon to do some Christmas shopping. Last year I enjoyed finding quite a few gifts there, including a children’s book signed by the author. The store even has an adorable gift wrapping station set up, complete with coordinating tissue and raffia ribbon (below).
Parnassus has always depended heavily on social media, beginning before the store opened, and has a team to oversee it. If you’re a book lover and you’re near the Nashville area, you’ll want to follow them to keep up with their event calendar.
I asked Mary Grey for one piece of advice for other small businesses, and she had some wonderful insight: “Don’t go into it just because you like to read (or bake bread, or sell toys, or anything else that interests you.) Running a business is a tremendous amount of work (with no time left for daytime reading!), so potential store owners need to know they will be giving most of their time and much “sweat equity” to their store if they want it to succeed.” It’s exciting to see a small independent bookstore succeeding in today’s challenging retail environment. I know I’ll be shopping there for years to come.
Parnassus is located at
3900 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville, TN
Open Mon-Sat 10am-8pm. Sun 12pm-5pm