Books are books. You will get the same book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or a local independent store. You might get better prices or a different customer service experience depending on where you buy the book, but the book will be the same. When a bookstore, or really any retailer, takes on a pretentious attitude about their product, alarms bells go off in the back of my mind. This air of pretense always bothered me when I heard the name “McIntyre’s Fine Books”, now named simply “McIntyre’s Books“, the third stop in my tour of Triangle area bookstores. McIntyre’s is a fine store, but their books are no finer than what you would find at any other bookstore. Of course the name change isn’t complete, it seems: the title tag on their web page still includes “Fine”.
Located about halfway between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, McIntyre’s is in Fearrington Village, technically outside of the Triangle but close enough to earn a pass. As you might guess from the name, Fearrington Village is not really a village of any sort, it is a retirement community, a housing development attractive to Triangle transplants from colder climes. Fearrington has a working farm distinguished for the Belted Galloway cattle that dot the entrance to the village center, a glorified shopping center where you will find McIntyre’s. The Galloway is the symbol of Fearrington Village, and t-shirts, coffee mugs, and the like throughout the Village Center are imprinted with images of the unusual cows.
McIntyre’s has a surprising choice of books, packed densely into a small space. Understandably, the demographics of their clientele tend to skew the range of books they carry; don’t expect anything racy or outré, but you will find the latest best-sellers and more. Entering the store, new releases in paperback are prominently displayed, as well as a listing of upcoming events and release dates for popular books. To the right, a cozy room devoted to mysteries invites, and McIntyre’s has dedicated staff to select the best of the genre. On the right, the main room beckons, with a well stocked kids section at the back, which makes sense: when the grandkids visit, the grandparents can pick up the latest Spongebob or Dora book for them right around the corner, and they carry many educational toys. To the far left, you will find a large comfortable room devoted to literature.
Of course, I gravitate to non-fiction works, the one genre typically not covered well by independent bookstores, and McIntyre’s is no exception. While I did pick two interesting non-fiction titles there, their selection was neither broad nor deep. A good bit of what could be classified as non-fiction were jumbo-sized coffee table books about jets or golf courses, the kind of thing you can get at deep discounts at the chain stores. The usual best-sellers from David McCullough, Bill Bryson, and Bob Woodward could be found stacked on tables, but the science section was especially thin, and, while they may have a few titles, I didn’t find a single book covering topics in computing.
McIntyre’s has earned a reputation for hosting great book readings, with a slightly left-of-center bent, including past readings by Jimmy Carter and Cokie Roberts. I attended a reading by NPR reporter Anne Garrels, when she had just published her book Naked in Baghdad. Literally hundreds of people showed up for this event, and it occurs to me that these readings may be the secret to McIntyre’s longevity. The bookshop has been around since 1989, outlasting many other area stores. Yet, when I visited in the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful Saturday in Spring, I was the only patron in the store. I was surprised to be the only customer on such a perfect day. Can a few blockbuster book signings a year keep a store afloat? I don’t know the economics of keeping a store running, but whatever McIntyre’s is doing, it has worked for a long time.
Especially if you are like me and love a good non-fiction read, don’t go out of your way to visit McIntyre’s. Instead, check their web site for in store events, and drop in to see a favored author. You might be surprised at what you find.