Addison's Book Store, 126 South Gay street, Knoxville, October 2023
Addison’s Used and Rare Books (and Events), celebrated its one-year anniversary in June and continues to grow and evolve. When I mentioned to owner Brian Worley that some people were skeptical when he opened, and questioned whether the business would survive, he laughed and said his friends said as much to his face. But he’d made up his mind long before that the space needed to be a bookstore.
The place has remained the same at its core, selling antique, rare, and used books, and offering space for meetings and events. Both aspects of the business have been well supported.
Still, there have been changes. The tea service business has moved on, though they continue to serve tea and fresh-ground coffee. Customers are encouraged to buy a drink and hang out with their beverage and a good book. It’s a model that holds great appeal for visitors to the shop. Brian said they don’t sell the fancy drinks, but they can do a good pour over if that’s what you like.
They’ve also recently completed their conference room in the basement and it is beautiful. It has been rented numerous times, but it is now better than ever. Easily accommodating a dozen or more, the space features a great conference table and comfortable chairs, as well as the amenities you might expect. You’ll also find a great water feature, beautiful art, artful lighting, and a generally beautiful space. The former coal storage area can also be closed off from the store for more privacy, or left open for the cool vibe.
The basement or the entire store can be rented for events and a wide range of groups have already done so. The Knoxville Writer’s Guild now meets there each month and several UT and UT Medical Center groups have used the space. There have been events by Visit Knoxville and wedding showers and engagement parties for book lovers. The full space can handle about 110 people for an event. The store’s book club meets there the last Wednesday of each month. Next up for that group is Frankenstein on October 25.
Another big change in recent months is that Brian made a bigger commitment to the store by purchasing the two floors. He said he didn’t want the store to be subjected to the whims of a lease and wanted to cement its future. He loves the space and feels like the business fits it. “I think this bookstore, its culture is a part of this old building. It goes with having old and rare books.” Of the purchase he said, “It’s a statement that I am committed to downtown. I want to provide a space where people can come in and feel relaxed and surrounded in an atmosphere that is part of the downtown vibe.
It’s all been very deliberate on his part. Declaring, “I wouldn’t do this in a new building,” he said the space is simply designed to be a bookstore.” He lived in Boston for several years and said used and antique bookstores were common and filled a niche that he said he felt was missing in Knoxville. Even the way the books are arranged — in a linear fashion along the walls with space between and no rows of bookshelves — was by design.
And the books, both recently used and the rare ones, are selling. He recently sold the oldest book in the shop, a 1538 copy of Caesar’s Commentaries in Latin. That book sold to a local collector, but they are also starting to get on the radar of collectors across the antiquarian book network. While the initial collection was largely assembled by Brian, along with Helene Vachon, Jeff Johnson now curates the collection. He’s getting known more widely, as well, and will soon present to the Grolier Club, “America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts” in New York City.
He said a wide range of customers walk through the doors, from teenagers to 80-year-olds and he can’t always tell who might make a purchase. In one such case recently, a customer he didn’t really expect to make a purchase, bought a first edition Lord of the Rings trilogy set. He had one customer walk in and ask if he had a 1960s geological survey of Oklahoma. He said that of course he didn’t, but upon checking realized he had just that for the happy customer. Most people aren’t that specific and come in “looking for treasures.” Increasingly they are buying old magazines, like the copy of Life Magazine he recently sold that was released the week Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.
A large percentage of books they put in the store now are brought in by the public, a practice he welcomes and encourages. While not everyone’s old box of books has something he’s looking for, sometimes he’s surprised. A customer recently brought in a box of books belonging to their uncle who was going into a nursing home. The book contained a 1572 copy of Homer’s Iliad.
While you may not have a five hundred year old book, he’d still love to see what you have. And he’d love for you to check out his ever-evolving collection and consider hosting your meetings or events there. All the details are available on the website. Mostly, he’d just like for you to drop in and enjoy one of downtown’s most unique businesses. The business is closed on Monday, open 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5:00 pm on Sundays.