After years of giving ground to chain stores and online sales, independent booksellers are reporting gains. Membership in a trade group was up for the 7th year in a row, with shops in more than 2,300 locations.
New Dominion is one -- a community hub on Charlottesville’s downtown mall. Credit for its success goes to owner Carol Troxell, who suffered a stroke last month and died at the age of 68.
Sandy Hausman has a profile of the woman who befriended many of the city’s best-known authors and their readers.
New Dominion has been in business since 1924 – owned, at first, by Christopher Columbus Wells, and then by a woman who had worked in the shop for ten years, Carol Troxell.
“She had an encyclopedic memory of titles and authors and frequently would know, with a single question, that someone was looking for a particular title,” recalls Rebecca Keese, one of six people who worked in the shop and wanted to talk about their remarkable boss.
Melissa Lockwood recalled a slim, bespectacled, tastefully dressed woman with a mane of long white hair – someone who put you at ease from the moment you sat down for a job interview.
“She would always begin, ‘Now what’s your situation?’ And then she would be like, ‘You know bookselling is not a money-making thing,’”
Sandy Dekay and Betsy Bloom said Troxell set the tone for New Dominion – an old fashioned shop with modern ambitions, where writers went to launch their books and staffers scrambled up ladders to retrieve them from shelves stretching to the 14 foot ceiling.
“People could talk. It wasn’t a library. They could talk about ideas. It was more like a Paris salon, and she was fluent in French, although she would have dismissed that," says Dekay.
" We had everything ever written on Paris in the shop. She loved British history, and she was an expert on Churchill, and she was an expert on spies,” Bloom adds.
Troxell was not an early adopter – shunning computers for older technologies .
“She insisted that we type the labels for shipping out boxes of books," Keese explains. "We would type away in the back room, and you would hear a customer say, ‘Do I hear a typewriter?’”
So it seems in keeping that Troxell imposed a dress code on her team, and events coordinator Mitzi Ware says no one complained.
“She gave me the job, and then she said, ‘You have to know that the women wear skirts and the men wear ties, and the windows had to be done just so.’”
In addition to books, Troxell loved cats, the roses that grew behind her shop and authors who wandered in for a chat. Visitors sometimes caught a glimpse of John Grisham in Carol’s office. To protect his privacy, she called him Mr. G. But you didn’t have to be famous to enjoy Troxell’s full attention. She often stepped up to assist customers in finding just the right volume, and for that Sandy DeKay says, she is remembered.
“I walked out of the shop today, and a total stranger to me slowed down and said, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ This was someone who did not know Carol well, but just experienced her as a customer of the shop.”
Despite their grief, friends joked that it was best Carol died before Donald Trump’s inauguration. She was, they recall, a fan of Secretary Clinton – or as Carol called her – our Hillary. The fate of the book shop has not been decided, but fans hope it will stay open. The store will host a reception and memorial for Carol Troxell on February 12th from 1-4.