Originally published in Raleigh Magazine. Words in italics are things I had to cut for space, or just thought would be a better fit as an aside to you, the T&S reader.
Cheerful, brightly-colored books line the shelves, there’s a three-legged dog named River and two scrappy women are at the helm—it’d be easy to idealize a shop like Dog-Eared Books. Tucked away from the buzz of Atlantic Avenue, the store is a hidden gem for reading enthusiasts, where (leashed) dogs are welcomed, workers make a policy of getting to know their customers and local authors are invited in regularly for signings. How could you help but envision bookshop life as anything but cozy, like a mug of warm tea on a rainy day?
“A lot of people think that owning a bookstore is a romantic [thing],” says co-owner Caitlynne Garland. “That is not the case. That is not the case at all.” She went on to explain that the work of a sustainable, growing bookstore is highly logistical, that it is dirty, back-breaking, a worthwhile but long climb up a steep hill.
Garland and Dog Eared’s other co-owner, Stephanie Stegemoller, met at Appalachian State University, in a genetics lab. Stegemoller plopped down at Garland’s table and launched a campaign to win the reserved Garland over. They formed a fast friendship which lasted through graduation and a move to Raleigh, where they spent time working at a local bookstore and, unintentionally, learning the mechanics of selling books along the way. When that store closed, they began selling books online from Garland’s spare bedroom, with $200 in cash for capital. The business and books spread rapidly throughout Garland’s home, landing the duo with a house full of excess books—perfectly good books, but with little to no online value—and no elbow room. They decided it was time to expand to a brick-and-mortar location, and their labor of love began. Garland’s stepfather built sturdy bookshelves, mothers and grandmothers pitched in with sorting and the two owners worked into the wee hours for six weeks straight. On April 29 of 2017, Dog-Eared Books opened to the public.
Two years in, the bookshop routines are comfortably settled. Fridays and Saturdays are devoted to selling $1 books out of the store. Sunday is a day off. Mondays through Thursdays are spent in the warehouse portion of the building, processing books out of gaylord (those giant cardboard boxes that you would otherwise find produce in).
“It’s always a state of chaos,” Garland says. “Organized chaos,” she clarifies.
“It’s organized to us, and we know what’s going on,” Stegemoller adds.
The warehouse is not actually chaotic or messy; these are just two orderly people. To process books, one of them clambers inside a gaylord. They sift through volumes damaged by mold or water and miscellaneous bonus items, such as candles, posters, and Christmas cards, pulling books to inspect and scan. Each book has potential; it could be sold online, as part of a restored set, in the store or as a part of a customer’s wish list. All of these options run through their minds as they sort through books big and small.
“Every single book that comes through this building, one of us has our eyes on it,” Garland says. She adds that they never know what they’ll find in a given box; some books look destined for the recycling pile and go on to sell on Amazon for $80. Others have value simply because they know there are people eager to read them, if only for a buck.
When the shop portion opens on Friday, everything is in order. Shelves are full just to the brim, never more. They are tidy, sorted, exactly right, and nothing like the hurricane aesthetic of Saturday nights following the ebb of the weekend traffic. Customers filter in and there is a palpable camaraderie among them—these are Book People who know the promise of print, and know that, inside each book, there are worlds, persons and ideas far beyond their own lives and experiences.
Stegemoller and Garland know their customers, too, who they are and what they’re looking for. But no, it’s not romantic. The shop is not full of characters. The work does not feel like a cozy cup of tea. It’s not a life of romance that’s in pursuit here, but something more simple—a life, like a dog-eared book, that’s simply good.
For my local peeps, Dog-Eared Books is open every Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The owners are super sweet and (if you’re lucky) you’ll get to meet both of Caitlynne’s dogs, River and Rory. She says that bringing the pups with her to work is the best perk of the job.