While the world bemoans the death of the local bookstore thanks to large conglomerates like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, one little shop tucked away in Sunset Beach quietly chugs along, moving a slew of books through it doors.
At Pelican Bookstore, customers come in and out at a brisk pace. And each time they do, manager Pat Wilson welcomes them and immediately talks books. It is an easy, ongoing conversation that never seems to start or end. It just happens, naturally.
And that’s the thing about Pelican Bookstore, the reason it survives in the new economy: this is a community of readers who become friends.
Pelican Bookstore opened over 25 years ago and its current owner, Anne Harris, bought the business 23 years ago. Harris, a Greensboro resident at the time, fell in love with Ocean Isle and bought a beach house at the tender age of twenty. Since she was on a teacher’s salary, she worked hard to make ends meet. Then when she retired at an early age, she saw the opportunity to buy Pelican Bookstore and seized it.
Shortly after taking the reigns of the bookstore, Wilson walked into Harris’s life. It is twenty years later and Wilson is still behind the counter most days ordering books, researching trends, and talking to all the customers who come through the door.
Wilson had been a funeral home manager (a family business) back in West Virginia and the proud owner of a house on Ocean Isle Beach. Even though she was retiring to be at the beach, she knew she wasn’t ready to actually be retired. So she walked into Pelican Bookstore and, in response to an ad, suggested that she be the manager.
Harris was surprised that, given Wilson’s impressive resume, she was interested in a small bookstore but hired her. It has been a match made in heaven ever since.
Wilson has always been an avid reader.
“I have read all my life,” Wilson says. “I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t reading.”
She currently consumes two to three books in a week. This makes her the perfect fit for the bookstore and her passion for books is palpable within the store walls.
“If you’re a reader, you go to Pelican’s,” long time customer Jad Davis says. “It’s a bookstore, but it’s more than that.”
It’s true that Pelican is an integral part of the community, both locally and on the national scene. They are contributors to the New York Times Bestsellers List, host many author events, have a large section devoted to local writers, and offer the opportunity to trade in or sell used books.
But what makes Pelican more than just a bookstore is the way it becomes part of a lifestyle.
“Pat has watched our grandsons grow up,” another customer, Carol Edmunds, says. “We share our feelings about books.”
After Edmunds says this, Wilson immediately asks if Edmunds caught the newest book that came in yesterday. Wilson thought of Edmunds when she saw it and wants to be sure Edmunds doesn’t miss it. Which is how it goes with nearly every regular customer Wilson sees.
Wilson remembers what they like and, frequently, will order books and set aside copies based on what she knows of them, without being asked. Don’t know what to read next? Tell her what you like and she’ll suggest something.
Out-of-towners have come to rely on Wilson and Pelican Bookstore, too. They make Pelican one of their first stops, loading up on beach reads. They ask Wilson to ship them books back to their homes. They make special trips from other counties. One man has kept up a letter correspondence with Wilson, calling her his “librarian.” In his letters, he asks for her book recommendations again and again.
“We can’t outsell Amazon,” Wilson admits. “But we can outservice them every day.”
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Village at Sunset Beach
1780-10B Chandler’s Lane
Sunset Beach, NC 28468