Waynesville residents may soon notice the sign on Main Street’s Blue Ridge Books & Café switched out for a new one that says just Blue Ridge Books.
The name change will be the most conspicuous sign of the switch in ownership that occurred this week.
On Tuesday, co-owners Robert and Betsy Baggett officially handed the reins over to general manager Jo Gilley and children’s buyer Allison Best-Teague.
Gilley was the first employee hired when Blue Ridge Books opened its doors in 2007, while Best-Teague transitioned into the store after it merged with Osondu Booksellers last November.
Robert Baggett, majority owner of Blue Ridge, said after spending many years running a 225-employee printing company in Atlanta along with Blue Ridge Books, he was more than ready for retirement.
Baggett sold his Atlanta business in March but retained the Waynesville bookstore. It was only in May that he decided to retire completely from business and sell the store.
At 61, Robert Baggett plans on spending most of the year in North Carolina while boating in Florida in the winter. His sister Betsy will relocate to Florida, where her twin daughters and granddaughters reside.
Also in May, Margaret Osondu, former owner of Osondu Booksellers and director of operations at Blue Ridge books, announced that she was no longer employed at the bookstore. The terse email she sent out to her newsletter subscribers on May 10 did not provide further explanation.
The Baggetts had earlier purchased property on the corner of Boundary and Walnut streets intending to move Blue Ridge to a new location with more parking. However, the store will remain in its current location due to “cost reasons.”
Robert Baggett has torn down two houses on the property and plans to put the land up for sale. “It’ll make a nice three-unit shopping center,” Robert Baggett said.
After deciding to retire, Robert Baggett concluded that Gilley and Best-Teague and Gilley would comprise the best team moving forward. The two were thrilled with Baggett’s offer.
“It was a dream job to work in a bookstore, but owning one is beyond a dream,” said Gilley.
Best-Teague said she has thought about owning a bookstore ever since she worked at Sloan’s Bookstore in Waynesville, which transformed into the Waynesville Book Company before once again morphing into Osondu Booksellers.
Best-Teague fondly remembers that her son literally took his first steps in that bookstore and how she and her husband dreamed of one day owning the business.
Gilley has experience as office manager in a Charlotte bookstore, while Best-Teague has worked in bookstores since the early ‘90s, including at a women’s bookstore in Durham and a large independent bookstore in Raleigh, Book buying responsibilities will be shared, though each co-owner will bring her own specialty.
Gilley is an avid reader of murder mystery authors and adores handing out biscuits to dogs that walk in with their owners.
Meanwhile, Best-Teague is passionate about children’s books and enjoys holding readings for babies under 3 on Tuesday mornings. When Best-Teague reads on her own, she chooses memoirs of people who aren’t famous.
Both learned a great deal about their new business while doing a throughout inventory of the bookstore recently.
“When you have to put your hand on every book in the store, then you come up with ‘We need more of this and less of that,’” said Best-Teague.
With all the upheavals this past year in the Waynesville bookstore world, both Best-Teague and Gilley are ready to go forward with their new venture and settle into a new routine.
“We’re just excited about focusing on the books,” said Best-Teague.
“We can make the store our own and fine-tune things,” added Gilley.
Even with the lingering threats of e-books and online retailers, both are hopeful that the personal contact that only a local bookstore can offer will help carry the business for years to come.