If Hillsborough is a hotbed of talented writers, then Purple Crow Books is a hotbed of their works. Notched in a row of old storefronts on King Street in downtown, the little independent bookstore boasts the most complete collection of local authors, poets, storytellers and journalists within an arm’s reach.
Sharon Wheeler, who opened the store 11 years ago, dotes on the writers like they’re her own children or grandchildren. “The writers here are so gracious to me,” she said. “They come in and sign books at the drop of a hat. I can email these authors and they tell me they’ll come in. The writers here are tremendous. They’re wonderful people. I always thought before I opened this bookstore that they would compete with each other, but they don’t. The cheer for each other. They are truly good souls.”
Wheeler is a retired elementary school guidance counselor. She and her husband had lived in Burlington before his passing. She had always loved to read and always loved books. She wanted her bookstore to promote community and to know the names of her customers. Purple is the color of strength, and Wheeler said she’s always been fascinated with crows.
“They’re so intelligent and amazing,” Wheeler said of crows. “I wanted to recreate it all. Recreate my life. I moved from Burlington to Hillsborough. It just seemed to fit and flow: Purple Crow Books.”
This year has demanded a more vibrant shade of purple from Wheeler and many other small-business owners in Hillsborough and throughout the state.
“I imagine we’re like everybody else,” she said. “We have certainly taken a hit during the pandemic, but so has everybody. I know there are people who are angry and upset because business isn’t going the way they want it to, but so many people are hurting. Not just businesses. People are losing loved ones and are not able to say good-bye. We’re kind of weathering the storm and doing the best we can, just like everybody else.”
The holidays are typically busy times at Purple Crow Books, and business has picked up relative to earlier in the year. But Wheeler said she’s waiting to see how it all goes. She said she’s blessed with a supportive and devoted clientele and an understanding and patient landlord.
And there’s also the excitement she gets from a box of new books from a from a local writer. “There are books always coming. Right when you think there’s going to be a lull, then all the books come in. It’s just great. It’s fantastic,” Wheeler said. “Alan Gurganus has a book coming out in January and I can’t wait. We’ve already gotten orders for it. He’s a true treasure in Southern literature. It’s very exciting to me when those books come in.”
The largest section of shelves in the tiny bookstore is filled with works by locals, like Gurganus, Lee Smith, Jill McCorcle, Steven Petrow and John Bemis, just to name a few. If you look in the window you will see a display called “The Books of the Pandemic,” which is a collection of books by writers in Hillsborough who are not as well known.
For all the bragging Wheeler does about Hillsborough’s wealth of writers, many of those authors express fondness for her bookstore. In “My Bookstore,” a recently published book about independent book sellers, award-winning writer Lee Smith wrote a piece about Purple Crow Books.
“Sometimes I feel hampered by the small size of my store, but Hillsborough’s a small town,” Wheeler said. “When you take out the people who don’t read, it’s a small market. We pride ourselves on doing special orders and being able to get special books for people.”
Independent book stores have peaks and valley’s, and their demise has been announced several times over the past two or three decades, at the hands of Borders Bookstores and Barnes and Noble. Then it was e-readers, and now it’s Amazon. But the independent bookstore seem always to find its niche market and nook location.
“I think independent bookstores are more than just bookstores,” Wheeler said. “They’re places where people gather. People of like minds gather. And they talk about what they read. I love to talk about what I read with my customers. I don’t think you can get that from big bookstores. We try to be supportive of the community and give money to schools, and things like that. That’s what we try to do.”
Purple Crow Books is at 109 W. King St. in downtown Hillsborough. It is open daily 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., although holiday hours may differ. Phone is 919-732-1711.