The value of story is incalculable. Just ask Samantha Wallace, Ashley Warlick, June Wilcox, and Tricia Lightweis. These
four women are the founders of M. Judson Booksellers & Storytellers, a downtown Greenville bookstore that opened in July 2015, so it goes without saying that they hold stories in high regard. These women know that stories are a way of structuring the world, of helping us make sense of our place in it. But more than that, they believe that stories have the power to help us imagine new worlds—and to look forward.
Three years ago, Wallace (publisher of local food culture magazine Edible Upcountry), Warlick (a published novelist and editor of Edible Upcountry), Lightweis (former owner of the Booksmith bookstore in Seneca, SC), and Wilcox (owner of an IT consulting firm) came together to address an unfulfilled need in Greenville. “We’re a community that prides itself on being progressive and rich in many dimensions, but there was no literary hub,” says Wallace.
Warlick adds, “I’ve been involved with organizations like the Emrys Foundation for years, and it’s a struggle to find a home for the very cool stuff they do. When we first started talking about a bookstore, one of the first things I got really excited about was that there could be a regular home for events, learning, and being around books.”
The home that they found in the historic Greenville County Family Court building couldn’t have been a better fit for their vision of a community focal point: the regal Beaux-Arts building has long been a recognizable element of the city’s streetscape. “The first day we came up here, we all knew this was the space,” says Lightweis.
Inside, former government-issued offices have been stripped out and traded for an open floor plan, white walls, and a flood of natural light. The shelves are populated by a carefully curated mix of Southern novels, Southern authors, cookbooks, and children’s books. A strip of the original terrazzo floors remain, flanked by book-lined walls and a café which serves small bites—sourced from the cookbooks on the shelves—coffee, beer, and wine.
“This is what we love,” says Warlick. “We all are mothers, we’ve all raised our children to love books. Cookbooks and food writing are some things Sam and I have always been passionate about, as has Tricia. And then Southern books, or books by Southern writers, was just a natural extension. We have a really rich community of writers in the Greenville-Spartanburg area. It all came together in a very natural way.”
Toward the back of the store is a community room. “This iconic building is a huge space, so we have the opportunity to host significant events for the community,” says Wallace. “We want this space to work in a lot of different ways. Books are absolutely at the heart of it all, but this is also a natural gathering space. It’s about having a space where we can bring stories to life, having a space where we can celebrate local artisans we’ve found.”
“From the very beginning, we wanted this to be more than a bookstore,” says Warlick. And it is—a place not only to enjoy stories, but also to help shape the story of a community.