Beach books galore
“As far as the employees, we’re all readers,” Bethany Beach Books’ Lee Grace noted. “That’s the one thing that draws us to the occupation.”
“I’d been a customer,” she pointed out. “I came in one day in late winter and I thought, ‘If I want a job, this is the place I’d like to work.’”
Grace said she’d specialized in history, and still favors that genre. She recommended “Widow of the South,” by Robert Hicks, based on the true story of Carrie McGavock, who helped re-bury more than 1,000 fallen Confederate soldiers in marked graves.
“She couldn’t stand the thought that they were going to lay a road over the battlefield,” Grace explained.
Michael Killian, a writer for the Chicago Times, is another favorite. She said he’d done some Civil War murder mysteries and more recently, “Deep Kill,” a modern-era novel about terrorists trying to blow up the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
“I don’t ordinarily read thriller-killers, but it was a good book,” she said. “Working here, you have to read a little of everything.
“And each of us brings a certain interest to the store, whether it be mystery, general fiction, history or historical fiction, sports… So hopefully, if a customer has a question about any specific genre, there will be someone here who can help them,” Grace said.
“For instance, two of the gentlemen are avid golfers, so the ladies can push questions over to them,” she pointed out.
The employees often rely on opinions from their children (or grandchildren) in making choices for the younger generations. She said they often have local high school students in as summer employees, and lots of kids who’d always summered in Bethany.
Their location, situated at the top of Garfield Parkway (corner of Garfield and North Atlantic Avenue), seems to make Bethany Beach Books easy to find, even for first-time visitors, Grace pointed out. And many do find them, especially in the summertime.
“As a matter of fact, when (the most recent) Harry Potter came out — you would have thought people would have bought them at the local bookstore back in their hometown,” she said. “But we sold 600 Harry Potters that weekend (200 on the first night alone, added employee Don Hennessey). Even people who had them on reserve at home, they couldn’t wait.”
And Bethany Beach Books gives special attention to local authors, Grace noted, who seemed to pique interest among both visitors and people who have lived in the area all their lives.
“We’re fortunate, in that some of these authors have a connection to this beach area,” she said. Of course, they typically came to Bethany to get away from it all, not hold a book signing, which tends to complicate employee Deedee Manuel’s efforts at events coordination — but a fair few do come by, Grace pointed out.
Coach Bill Yoast, immortalized in the “Remember the Titans” movie, is now a local, and she expects he’ll be stopping by sometime soon. Yoast, an easy speaker, worked with biographer Steve Sullivan on his book “Remember This Titan.”
And Linda Greenlaw, also immortalized in film as the lady ship captain in “A Perfect Storm,” has many friends in the area, Grace said. Greenlaw brought her mother, Martha, by Bethany Beach Books this summer, to sign copies of their collaborative effort, “Recipes from a Very Small Island.”
Extending beyond literature, artist Carol Dyer’s depictions of local scenes are a popular choice, she pointed out, and Dyer has her own display at the store — books of artwork, and also boxed sets of greeting cards. Bethany Beach Books carries a children’s book co-authored by local artist Rosemary Carroll, and all three of Ocean View resident James Meehan’s books on local history, too.
According to Grace, they get a few national names as well — Pat Buchanan has come by a time or two, and his viewpoints seemed to generate a lot of interest.
“He always draws a good crowd,” she said. An avowed conservative, Buchanan nonetheless bucked the administration’s stance in his “Where the Right Went Wrong,” in 2004.
As far as trends, Grace said she’s been surprised by the number of history books climbing the bestseller lists this year.
“We’ve sold over 200 copies of David McCullough’s ‘1776,’” she pointed out.
She is pushing for a larger history section but recognizes there will always be customers who want something the shop doesn’t have on the shelves. But if they don’t have it, they can get it, usually within two or three days, she said — competitive speed, even standing beside Amazon.com and the like.
While Grace said they aren’t planning for anything like an internet café at Bethany Beach Books, they do host a couple of book clubs over winter, in the gazebo area overlooking North Atlantic Avenue.
“They meet here September through May, an a.m. club and a p.m. club,” she said. “And what’s nice about the reading groups, they go through a wide selection. Biographies, histories, regular fiction, mysteries...”
They’ll have to give way come summertime, but even while the store’s relatively quiet, Grace said the staff keeps busy. They study the catalogues, read the advanced notices to find out what the publishing houses plan to release in the spring, start to prepare for the coming year.
“The bestseller lists are still published every week, and books are published year-round, so you really have to stay open all year, just to keep up,” Grace noted. And people seem drawn to the beach winter or summer, she pointed out, so it is just good customer service (and increasingly important, as more and more people move to the area year-round).
They’re on winter hours for now, opening at 10 a.m. and closing around 5 p.m. (and closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). For more information, call (302) 539-2522 or visit www.bethanybeachbooks.com on the Internet.