As we continue our monthly spotlight on indie bookstores, this August we want to feature Buxton Books in historic Charleston, South Carolina. And this month, we have a special guest interviewer as well: Three Rooms Press author Christopher Chambers (Scavenger, The Obama Inheritance, The Faking of the President)! So without further ado, we’ll let Chris take it from here as he talks with Buxton Books owners Julian and Polly Buxton about Buxton’s history, their role as a stop for national book tours, favorite authors and book recommendations, and more—read the full interview below, as well as check out Chris’ novel SCAVENGER through Buxton here!
Indie Bookstore Spotlight: Buxton Books, Charleston
by Chris Chambers
Chris Chambers: I have the honor of being a Three Rooms Press author and bring Three Room Press fans your Indie Bookstore Spotlight: Buxton Books in Charleston, S.C. It’s actually the trifecta as I have been friends with the owner, Julian “Tiger” Buxton for at least 40 years. Yes, forty. Pre-Amazon days and the irony is it started at our common alma mater with Jeff Bezos, Princeton University. I never thought I’d be an educator, fiction author, run an international peace organization; Tiger was either going into medicine like his dad, or be the next Wall Street wonk albeit with a lilting Low Country accent. But we shared another trait: a creative spark that melted our go-with-the-crowd career slog. Too bad we didn’t know how to bring that to practical reality. Our strategy was to grab a beach house on the South Carolina shore, grow beards, get dogs as loyal companions, drink rum, write. Rinse, repeat. Lucky for us, we met amazing women who saw that spark in us and burned with their own inner fire, cleaned us up, set us on a path the four of us both toil with and marvel at today.
And today, Buxton Books is a powerhouse of the historic, style/culture and tourism hub that is Charleston, not far from aptly where Queen and King Streets meet, so let’s meet the King and Queen, Tiger and Polly Buxton (as usual Polly was out hustling store biz while I pressed Tiger for the info).
CC: Describe Buxton Books and why anyone stopping in Charleston should step in and enjoy it?
Tiger Buxton: Buxton Books is warm, inviting, magical and just big enough. We are a full service, independent bookstore on Lower King Street, located in the heart of the most beautiful city in the United States. Being in the store is a great experience. Many guests tell us about books they have previously enjoyed, and when they desire it, we match them with a superb new read. Others come in to be quietly embraced by the charm and abundance of books.
CC: As you are married, I have to ask: what came first, the idea for an indie bookstore, or the romance?
TB: Buxton Books is Polly’s dream come to life. So the idea came first and the realization of it came with the romance. That dream originated when she was a teenager. Back then Charleston had a beloved independent bookstore on East Bay Street called Chapter Two. Late in the night on our second date, almost nine years ago now, Polly reminded me about this elegant and delightful store, and told me about her long standing desire to have one of her own. The look on her face convinced me that the dream was still very much alive. Soon that excited look changed to vulnerability. She quickly said, “Charleston is a different place now. The expense makes a book store downtown unrealistic. It is highly unlikely to ever happen.” The rest of the story about Buxton Books origins is on this page of our website https://www.buxtonbooks.com/our-story.
CC: Is it tougher to keep the romance up having to run a small business in essentially a historic, tourist destination, especially as we come out of COVID (we pray), or have your bonds grown stronger given your proximity, teamwork? How do you compliment each other’s strengths?
TB: We recently have given lots of attention to these considerations. Without a doubt, our bond has grown steadily stronger. Of course, running the business has created stressful moments, especially during the first couple of years, and during the peak of the pandemic. We were well aware that a couple working together could be dangerous territory for a marriage. Yet, from the start, just as we are in our personal life, we found that at work we are better together. It helps that we are passionate about and find meaning in our work. It also helps that between us we bring over a century of life experience to this personal and business venture!
CC: COVID aside, do you see your role as a stop for national author tours?
TB: Yes. Absolutely. From inception, establishing Buxton Books and our collaborative venues as a coveted destination for authors on national tours has been an overarching mission. For the last six years we have been cultivating our relationships with publishing houses, demonstrating that we can produce significant event sales volume. Charleston sells itself. We’ve shown what we can do. Authors want to come here and publishers want to get their authors back out. We are excited about the future of author events for our business and for Charleston.
CC: So here’s a follow-up: as a writer I try to be nimble, adaptive, and thus I’m published by both independent and large publishers, create fiction and nonfiction and pivot quickly among all of that. However, is that a course for the indie bookseller these days, or is the old prime directive still strong: be “niche,” specialized?
TB: Our experience is similar to yours as a writer. In our case the question calls for a dual answer. The Buxton Books customer experience is in large part traditional indie bookseller, albeit in no way as a sleepy bookshop. And, from the beginning, we diversified out of interest and necessity. For the three years before the pandemic, the author events segment of our business attracted more people and book sales than the retail store. Buxton Books also owns a small but growing publishing house.
CC: Aside from me, who are your favorite authors, and what writers, genres, subject matter do see as hot now? What about up and coming?
TB: You are our number one favorite author by far. Right behind you are Mark Twain, Thomas Hardy and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Our current best selling non fiction book is Begin Again by Eddie Glaude Jr.
Recommendations from our younger staff are all over the place. Some examples:
- Haruki Marikami (The Wind Up Bird Chronicles and Kafka On the Beach, and a new book of short stories coming out soon).
- Charleston/New York writer Grady Hendrix (He’s written several novels in the horror genre. I read his most recent two, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires and Final Girl Support Group. I’m not big on this genre but I loved these books).
A steadily trending genre is novels about women transforming their lives. Some are coming of age stories but more prominently now are books about adult women reinventing their lives.
- V E Schwab, Invisible Life of Addie LaRou
- Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (2007)
- Queenie, Candice Carton WIlliams (2019)…working on a new novel
- Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
- Casey McQuiston, Red, White and Royal Blue (2019)…working on a new novel
- Sue Monk Kidd, all of her novels—the most recent is The Book of Longing.