Nancy Olson - Library Baby

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As many of you know I have a book coming out next month called Blue Ridge Reunion. The 124 page hardback features my father’s majestic mountain watercolors and my essays about growing up in Western North Carolina. I’ve also recorded a companion musical CD by the same title. The whole project has been pretty consuming this year but as my late father would say “it’s been a labor of love.” One of the neatest people I’ve gotten to know along the way is Nancy Olson. Nancy owns and operates Quail Ridge Books & Music on Wade Avenue in Raleigh.

I’ve long been fascinated by the success of Nancy’s store which has won several national awards. How does an independent book store thrive in today’s economic climate? “We survive because we’re different,” Nancy told me in a recent interview. A major ingredient in the Quail Ridge success formula is the author event. The store’s calendar is chocked full of book signings and readings by local, regional and nationally acclaimed authors. Large crowds turn out for these events and hundreds of books are signed and sold.

You don’t see the best sellers out front in Nancy’s store. And you’ll never find a trashy romance novel here. It’s just not part of the culture. Nancy calls herself a “library baby.” While growing up in Virginia her family spent a good part of every Saturday browsing though the book shelves of their local library. Reading became a window to the world and she’s still looking out of it every day. Nancy reads seven or eight books each month. Her total for 2007 was 75.

Nancy’s most exciting event was launching Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain at Quail Ridge. The two had been friends long before the book became a huge literary hit. Nancy’s store sold 6,000 copies of the book at Quail Ridge including 1,200 copies during the first reading. Another favorite signing involved former President Jimmy Carter. Nancy remembers Mr. Carter as “extraordinarily kind and thoughtful.”

Another key component to the Quail Ridge success story is the helpful, friendly and loyal staff including Sarah Goddin and Rene Martin. Sarah joined Quail Ridge after running her own book store for ten years in Cary. Rene organizes the author events and handles publicity. With such a solid staff Nancy can devote her energies to the big picture. When asked about her Raleigh Hall of Fame induction and Tar Heel of the Week status Nancy quickly points to the professionalism and competence of her staff and the loyalty of her customers as reasons for her personal success.

A month or so ago I sent Nancy a draft of my book. I was thrilled when she told me she loved it and thought it would be a “big hit.” She even agreed to take me under her wing and help me develop a plan to publicize and distribute the book. Her encouragement and support have meant the world to me. I wish my father and mother could have known Nancy Olson. They would have loved her too. My parents ran an independent book and gift store in Morganton in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. They knew all about the struggles of being an independent merchant. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to unveil my book at Quail Ridge Books & Music. I hope to see all of you there Friday evening, October 17 at 7:30P.M. as we formally release Blue Ridge Reunion with a book reading, slideshow and musical performance. Join me as we celebrate the project itself but also the great gift of Nancy Olson.

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