Someone asked me recently, "What did you learn from opening a bookstore and then watching it close three years later?" Apparently not a darn thing. We've done it again.
The NEW Wild Fig is nestled in a diverse community at the corner of Eddie and Limestone in a booming area. In addition to more new books than used, we've added boutique items such as t-shirts, tote bags and pencil cases (all with a literary flair) and we have a fabulous cafe in house serving a variety of high end coffee and espresso drinks (all of our coffees and teas are organic). Other food items include yogurt parfaits, personal six inch pizzas made from quality products, smoothies and cup salads. We also carry an array of baked goods from Midway School Bakery and a cooler with drinks made here in Kentucky, such as Ale 8 and Banyantree Chai.
There is no doubt that gentrification is alive and well here. We are one of a handful of black-owned businesses on Limestone. Here on the north end there's a barbershop, and to my knowledge there are no other black businesses until you reach House of Soul and Sav's Grill in the two and three hundred blocks of Limestone.
Recently we have had a string of visitors who once lived in the house that is now the building that holds our bookstore. Two of them (a couple) recently came into the store complaining about being displaced before the house was bought and renovated. I can hear the frustration in their voices. I can empathize with circumstances. It's a long story too lengthy for my intention here, but apparently the young woman of the couple had some kind of dispute with her father when he sold the house that she was renting from him. After she was evicted, our landlord bought the house, renovated it, and rented it to us.
So the building is beautiful, but we understand what we understand. That this was someone's house for years, long before we got here. That gentrification wears two faces and that we are still straddled in both worlds and experience the double consciousness that W.E.B. Du Bois so poignantly wrote about so many years ago. We see the children playing on Eddie Street and I have great plans to make sure they all get a book. I see the neighbors (both black and white) eye us suspiciously, as though they can't decide if we are for them or against them. In the coming weeks, I plan to knock on all the doors along Eddie as though I am a politician, introduce myself, explain what we are trying to do, and invite them to the open house that we will be having during Night Market from 6 to 8 p.m. next Friday.
Today I met Mr. Ernest Bryd while I was taking out the trash. "You want some coffee?" I yelled out to him. He told me he couldn't see well, so I took him a cup of Kenyan. I tried to give it to him as a goodwill gesture, but he insisted on paying me for it. We talked awhile. He told me about his niece. I told him who I was and what I was doing over there at the new place. He nodded his head and reminded me of my grandfather when he changed the subject and said that his niece would be coming soon or at least he thought she was coming soon. I told him I would let him get on with his day. He said "Like I tell my niece I ain't going no where." Every time I see Mr. Bryd from now on I will take him over a cup of coffee and I have asked everyone at The Fig to kind of watch out for him. I'm not sure that all of the neighbors will be as warm and friendly as Mr. Bryd, but I hope they'll put up with me and maybe they'll come in when they are curious.
On the other side of this fence I've seen curious potential shop goers drive slowly by our place. Some even park in front of the house/building and look for awhile before they drive off. Some decide to stay and shop and drink and laugh. I don't know if it's the facade of the outside of the building that still looks too much like a house that's off putting or if they are still a little gun shy about the neighborhood or if simply they were just getting their bearings for another day when they have more time. Time will tell.
We are working hard and we've put all of our finances into this endeavor. One of our children has quit her fairly secure job to come work for us. We love our beautiful, shiny space and we have hand selected every book with a potential buyer in mind. We are wild in our selections. We are traditional in our selections. We are trying to forge a niche market for book buyers. We don't have all best sellers neither do we only cater to the avant-garde, though we are rather proud to be eclectic weirdos. Maybe you will find our new books on some other bookstore shelf but maybe you won't. I described the Wild Fig recently as a literary country store with an eclectic twist.
Perhaps we are a little crazy. Perhaps we are totally mad. Perhaps you will come check us out. But maybe you won't. We are scared. We are excited. We remember what closing the previous bookstore felt like. The memory of having lived through closing one store is horrifying. We know our neighbors have memories, too. We know this house/our new bookstore home was filled with multiple families over the years.
There are three young women who work in our kitchen. Two are our daughters, the third is a sweet young woman we hired. They are all twenty something. They work hard and they giggle. When I'm shelving books, I often think about all the women who have probably worked in that kitchen over the years and the girls who most likely giggled at their hips. There are scratches in the hard wood floors that are attached to somebody's memories. I acknowledge this. The young woman who visited recently said, "This was my bedroom," and she spread her arms out circling the room. I wanted to hug her, but I didn't. I didn't think she was ready for that. I told her to bring her daughters by for a book and that I hoped they were doing well.
Our store is again named for Kentucky's beloved novelist Gayl Jones who doesn't live too far from our doors. As Jones said in her poem "Wild Figs and Secret Places," "Memory is a mosquito/pregnant again/and out for blood."
I read a New York Times article that declared "...Print is Far From Dead." It discussed the comeback of the book and then cautiously advised that "the world is changing too quickly to declare that the digital tide is waning." That's how I would describe us: cautiously optimistic that this new model will work and that we will be planning readings, community discussions, and collaborations that will benefit neighbors and community. That people will be gathered around tables in our small cafe for years to come with their eyes glued to a good book. That we can be successful business owners and provide goods and services around the world of books. This is what we love. We love what's happening here. We hope you will fall in love with our vision, too.
Don't hesitate at the step, no matter what your reason. Come into the brick house with the purple accents. Come in and let's talk. Let us show you around.