Driving Distance: Greenville, SC and M. Judson Booksellers & Storytellers

Driving Distance: Greenville, SC and M. Judson Booksellers & Storytellers
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I recently took a short drive down to Greenville, SC to visit my sister and for a bit of work-related activity. If you haven’t been to Greenville yet, you’re missing out.

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At just 1 hour, 45 minutes south of Charlotte, Greenville is everything a small town should be, and then some.

The downtown, largely focused around Main St., is as cute as they come. There are restaurants of every variety, shops for anything and everything you might be searching for, and cool parks, waterfalls, and fun things to do, giving everyone something to do in just a 1-mile stretch.

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All of that is great and good, and probably reason enough for a visit to Greenville, but what’s most exciting is the latest addition to Main St.: an independent bookstore, rich in history, with a mission to promote southern literature and culture while engaging readers of all ages at the same time.

This is M. Judson: Booksellers & Storytellers.

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Now, you’re probably thinking, An independent bookstore? Opening now? In the era of big-box superstores? And in so many ways, you’re right. People opening indie bookstores these days may just be crazy.

But that’s just it. It takes courage. It takes passion. And more than anything, it takes creativity to make a bookstore of this kind stand out amongst the behemoth discount spots like Barnes & Noble and Amazon that are taking over the literary world. But that’s OK. Because the founders of this store have all of the above and more.

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Four women, each with her own story to tell and connection to the literary world, got together several years ago, and today readers and foodies alike can enjoy the fruits of their labor.

What makes M. Judson so wonderful? And why is it worth the drive?

Well, there are lots of things.

For one thing, it has that feel. You know it. It’s indescribable, but it’s there. It’s energy. It’s life. It’s pure and unmatched enthusiasm for something – in this case books – which gives a place a feeling of wonder. When I arrived M. Judson last Sunday evening, I felt it. On a Sunday evening, around dinnertime, the store was hopping. Young children browsed the kids section, adults sipped cocktails being made by a local purveyor of fine food and beverage, the owners mingled with guests and helped sell made-from-scratch goodies in the bakery, and the rest of us just soaked it all in. The store was alive.

For another thing, this isn’t just any old bookstore with millions of titles to get lost and overwhelmed in. The space is just the right size for holding just enough books. Sections include food-writing, southern lit, and then the standbys: children’s, YA, adult, etc. In addition to books, there are classic gifts and knick-knacks. From dish towels and juice glasses to adorable baby pillows and toboggans, the list goes on and on.

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When describing the reason for why the store stocks the gifts and other odds and ends they carry, co-owner Ashley Warlick notes that the items found at M. Judson aren’t just there to be there. They’re there because they’re “clever” and because they “reference some other time and place.” It is because of this that being in M. Judson feels a little like a trip down memory lane, and who doesn’t love that?

Finally, it’s the extras. Sure books are awesome, and knick-knacks are great, but M. Judson has even more than that. In the mood for a homemade muffin or cookie? They’ve got that. Craving a local cold beer to enjoy while flipping through Sean Brock’s latest cookbook? They’ve got that too. Arrived downtown a bit early for your dinner reservation, and now you’re not sure what to do? Stop into M. Judson for a glass of vino, and peruse the shelves while you wait. It sure beats the over-crowded bar scene at other local joints, and you might just find your next must-read while you’re at it.

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All in all, M. Judson is doing things I can only dream of one day doing. They’re bringing back the magic of the local bookstore, and they’re doing it because they’ve experienced that magic for themselves and they want nothing more than to share it with their community. As Warlick notes, “M. Judson is a place where everything tells a story.”

So, the next time you’re staring down a weekend with nothing to do, consider a day-trip or weekend stay in Greenville. Get a room at one of the many hotels in walking distance of Downtown, eat some yummy food, visit the awesome Saturday morning farmers’ market, play in the water falls at Falls Park, and treat yourself to M. Judson Booksellers & Storytellers. (They’re open every day.) Books are good for the soul.

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