Is There a Bookseller in the House? North Carolina's Pomegranate Books

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Retailing, specifically bookselling, is honorable and difficult work. Some might say it is not, however, on a par with saving lives or curing cancer. That's what makes Kathleen Jewell, owner of Wilmington, North Carolina's new store, Pomegranate Books such an intriguing addition to the bookselling community. She has a foot in both worlds.

Kathleen Jewell, M.D., has practiced preventive medicine for 25 years, 20 of them in Wilmington. Her husband, who has supported her bookselling venture in many ways, including using beginner's luck to book a major author, is an oncologist. Pomegranate Books, which opened on November 21, does not dispense pharmaceuticals or medical advice, but offers "Resources for a Fruitful Life," according to the sign outside the 1912 house, which is home to the bookstore.

Jewell sees her role as a bookseller as complementary to her doctoring -- which she hasn't abandoned; she is on a sabbatical. "My field is preventive medicine, so I have always been involved in educating people," she told BTW, "mostly women, because that's who generally comes to a woman doctor.

"I have always wanted to own a bookstore, and we've created the sort of store I'd like to shop in." She wants to offer patrons as much useful information as possible, both through carefully selected inventory and bookstore events that relate to health awareness whenever possible. "We've already participated in 'The Heart Truth,' the National Institutes of Health awareness campaign for women about heart disease."

Pomegranate stocks a full range of health-related titles, and Jewell mentioned some of the many topics that she considers in the category -- occupational health, mental health, spiritual awareness, psychology, environmental concerns, hospice care, and nutrition. The store's initial inventory on the subject, pre-selected by her wholesaler, was not very appealing, she said. "Most of the books were about fad diets -- lose 10 pounds in 10 minutes -- with the focus on cosmetic issues instead of informing people about good health and nutrition. We've been building up the stock."

Jewell works closely with her sole staff person, Victoria Glancy. Although Glancy is apparently not certified to perform medical procedures, she has had much bookselling experience, including more than five years at the late Wilmington independent, Bristol Books.

Glancy told BTW that she was hired by Bristol only a week after moving to Wilmington, and when Bristol closed in July, she was happy to help start up Pomegranate. "I was in [Bristol] when Kathleen came in looking to buy some equipment. Joann [Bristol, store co-owner] told her that if she bought 50 bookshelves, she'd throw in a great employee --free."

Pomegranate does have some of Bristol's fixtures, and like Bristol, offers a $15 lifetime membership, which includes 10 percent discounts on most purchases, audio book rentals, and a free pastry with coffee on one's birthday. Teachers and published authors receive free memberships. "Our first 75 members came from Bristol," Glancy said. "People have been coming in saying 'Thank God we have an indie again,' and 'We're so happy to see you.'"

Jewell told BTW that Glancy's bookselling experience has been very valuable. "We work well as a team," she said. "Some ideas are hers, some are mine, and some are thrust upon us."

Although Jewell was a newcomer to retailing, she had set up and run a medical practice. "I knew about certain things: I had to pay taxes. I had to pay employees and work within a budget. But there are many new things to learn specifically about retail. Victoria is a big help, and my daughter, who has been a bookseller, has been advising me. Generally, book buying has gone well. The Book Sense picks are very useful, and our Book Sense display sells very well -- people are drawn to it."

This week, Pomegranate received its first shipment of Book Sense gift cards. "It's great to have them," Jewell said. "We have a lot of part-year residents, semi-retired people who spend time here and have homes or grandchildren somewhere else. They will get the cards here and can spend them in other stores."

Jewell prepared for bookstore ownership by attending Book Expo America for the past two years, as well as a Bookseller School run by Paz & Associates. "That was extremely useful in learning the nuts and bolts; what works and what doesn't. It [the class] offered great possibilities for networking, but because of the size of the group," she noted, "we couldn't really get to know each other. I'd like to have come away with a list of attendees with addresses so that we could visit each other's stores.

"I would definitely recommend attending a booksellers school," she told BTW. "And [during the planning stages] talk to every bookseller you meet. Everyone I have ever talked to has been helpful, no one has held back. The booksellers have been very generous with their time and information; there isn't a feeling of competition."

Opening the store presented a number of challenges, primarily "how long it took to get going," Jewell said. "I thought that once I found the location, things would fall into place quickly. We opened on November 21 -- I would like to have had more lead-time before the holidays. I advise anyone planning to open a bookstore to allow for a lot of lost time." Setting up the bookstore took a few weeks longer than setting up her medical practice. "[In bookselling] there are many different places to go to for things, it is more centralized in medicine," she observed.

One reason for delay was the floor of the charming 1912 house, which provides 1,800 square feet for the bookstore and cafe. "There are different regulations for bookstores -- because of the weight of books, everything had to be reinforced. I heard about a bookstore in Raleigh that had fallen through the floor so we can't complain. But [the floor construction] added a month to the schedule.

"I'm an eternal optimist," Jewell continued, "and things have gone well. The renovation was a lot like renovating a house, and after all my years here, I have wonderful friends with many valuable skills, including designers and decorators."

In the interest of full disclosure, Kathleen Jewell is not aware of any kinship that she, a New Jersey born bookseller/physician, may share with Wanda Jewell, executive director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA), her regional association.

Dr. Jewell said, "I haven't explored it, and I haven't yet met [Wanda]. Someone went to the SIBA meeting for me. Although I do have a great-great-grandfather from Chattanooga, so it's possible."

Also, Pomegranate Books is unrelated to the eponymous British publisher, and Pomegranate Press, a U.S. publisher of books about Dark Shadows and other television shows.

Jewell explained why she chose the name for her bookselling venture: "Pomegranates have importance in history, in religion, in the Greek myth of Persephone. It has been a symbol of fullness and ripeness of women. Almost every culture and religion uses the pomegranate as a symbol -- mostly of fertility. Pomegranate trees have grown in this region. They are mentioned frequently in the Bible, in the Quran, and the Song of Solomon. It's a powerful image and beautiful color. And it's full of antioxidants." --Nomi Schwartz