In a run-of-the-mill strip mall on the outskirts of downtown Raleigh, just off Wade Avenue, Quail Ridge Books and Music is easy to miss. It isn’t in an especially attractive spot, a typical cookie-cutter strip mall inoffensively decorated with no architectural distinction. But as the old saying goes, you can’t tell a book by its cover. Once inside Quail Ridge Books, the friendly staff and remarkably eclectic selection make clear why this gem of a bookstore has been around for so long, since 1984.
With Whole Foods Market as an anchor tenant, and the The Wine Merchant just around the corner, Quail Ridge benefits from the clientele these two stores draw, despite the boring strip mall locale. Over the years, Quail Ridge has distinguished itself with its remarkable series of book readings by local, and not so local, authors. If you are looking for a literary event in the Triangle, begin your search with a visit to their calendar of events, or just listen to WUNC. As a longtime sponsor of public radio, the bookstore regularly announces their upcoming events on the air.
As an avid WUNC fan, I’ve heard about Quail Ridge for a long time, in fact since 1987 when I moved here. But yesterday was actually my first visit to this wonderful store. It was long overdue, something I promised to do over a year ago, when, I started posting occasional reviews of Triangle area bookstores, trying to fulfill a plan to visit all of them as a guide for book lovers. Of course, life got in the way, and while it is only twenty-five miles away, cramming a trip to the City of Oaks into my busy weekend schedules is more difficult than it sounds.
You will find the predictable bookstore decor covering the walls at Quail Ridge, advertising the popular releases from big publishers. But Quail Ridge also graces their walls with portraits of favorite local authors like Reynolds Price, a homey touch you’ll never see at B&N. They have a remarkably broad collection of North Carolina travel, history, and literary books. Genre fiction is well represented of course, and I was surprised at the wide range of reference books for literary enthusiasts available, as well as the tall shelves of philosophy works. The kids section is jam-packed, in separate room with brightly colored walls adorned with original illustrations from noted children’s book artists.
Quail Ridge has a small collection of jazz, classical, and world music available on CD, a rare find these days. They also have a fairly comprehensive magazine section, minus the usual gossip magazines you can find at any grocery store. With an emphasis on the North Carolina theme, they carry a variety of gifts, games, cards and stationery, but the main thing you will find here is books, books and more books, a deeper selection than you will find at your typical mass-market big-box chain store. For example, I purchased a copy of Sarah Vowell’s Take the Cannoli, which I have tried to find at Barnes & Noble for months.
As an aside, this brings up one of my pet peeves of late: so-called special ordering. Of course, B&N would happily “special order” a book for me, but today anyone can special order from Amazon or B&N.com. What used to pass for special service is now a sign that a bookstore is just interested in pushing best sellers, not necessarily deep catalog that book lovers often want. It is a real treat to walk into a store and find something that you were looking for, and that is often what makes a bookstore stand out in my mind.
My visit yesterday was on perhaps the strangest day in recent memory weather-wise, with tornadoes ripping through Raleigh. I was only expecting some heavy rain, not the windy deluge we saw yesterday. As I was in Quail Ridge, a warning alarm went off somewhere nearby, and the Voice of “God” announced “All Clear!” as the storm system moved out of the Triangle and the skies began to brighten. But I know I’ll visit again, and next time, I’ll read the weather forecast a little more carefully. I may still go on a rainy day, but only because it will give me more of a chance to stay and browse.