Thursday, March 21, 2013

Robie Books and Berea, Kentucky

Berea College
There is nothing quite as enjoyable as visiting a small college town. Berea, Kentucky boasts Berea College with its shady, tree-filled campus, a historic restaurant and hotel, shops full of hand-made Kentucky art and crafts, art studios and galleries, and some very friendly folks.

On our visit to the town on Tuesday, a friend and I enjoyed a tasty Southern delicacy, a pulled pork sandwich topped with creamy coleslaw, at historic Boone Tavern.  We had a ball as we wandered in and out of shops and galleries featuring watercolor and acrylic paintings; photographs; pottery vases, mugs, and plates; woven scarves, blankets and rugs; wooden bowls, boxes and puzzles; metalwork; blown glass; and, beaded jewelry - necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings. All items are hand-made by Kentucky artisans. 

As we drove into town we noticed large, artistic painted hands in front of stores, on street corners, in small parks. These, we learned, were part of the public art project "Show of Hands". Very colorful and so fitting for a town that promotes hand-made objects.

Show of Hands

The town itself has a population of about 14,000 and the college has an enrollment of 1500 students. The college was founded in 1855 and every student attends tuition free. It draws mostly from the Appalachian region of the state giving the lowest of low-income  students with high academic qualifications a chance at a first-rate education. Many students are the first in their family to attend college.

Each student works at least ten hours a week on campus either in Boone Tavern and the hotel which belong to the college, in one of the college departments or offices, or in the student shop creating  jewelry, pottery, or woven pieces to be sold.

Of course, the trip would not have been complete without a visit to the local used bookstore Robie Books. The shop, located on the edge of the campus, is presided over by owner Avena Cash who greeted us from behind the front counter. She was surround by stacks of books on the floor that she was processing into the store's inventory. 

Robie Books was originally founded by a Mr. Robie (now deceased) and his wife. Avena and her husband bought it three years ago. There are no coffee machines, comfy chairs, or cats. However, there are plenty of books which is what makes a bookstore a bookstore. 

I rummaged through shelves of historic and classic fiction, mysteries, and children's books. Gardening and nature books and histories and biographies had rooms of their own. 

At one point I had in my hand a sweet little hardcover edition of Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell but left without buying it. I don't know what I was thinking. I must have been getting sleepy from my lunch. Oh, well. I can always call Avena and have her send it to me.

Robie Books owner Avena Cash
Anyway, I did pick up As You Were edited by Alexander Woollcott which contains short works by American writers and poets collected for servicemen overseas during World War II. A real treasure, to be sure.

It is a rare day that I enter a used bookstore and leave with only one book but, although it is a struggle, I am trying to keep my purchases limited to hardcover copies which helps keep my expenditures and TBR piles down.


  1. So lucky you are to be close to places where there are used book stores! Or any book store for that matter. My book shopping is pretty well limited to Friends of the Library sales or an occasional find at a thrift shop or garage sale. I enjoyed reading about your trip to Berea. Neat idea, the show of hands. Like that better than the painted cows that were popular a few years ago. Joyce in KS

    1. Hi Joyce. I love visiting used bookstores in other towns and cities. I just never know what I will find. Berea was certainly a pleasant place to be on a sunny day.

      I have found some real gems at thrift shops. The thrill of the chase and all that! I have three independent bookstores in my neighborhood and I can think of quite a number of bookstores - selling both new and used books - all within a couple of hours of my home. As you say, I am lucky.

  2. What an enjoyable day you had; from shopping and eating at Boone's Tavern, to Robie's Books, not to mention the Woollcott treasure you brought home. I love finding such books on travels, Belle, enjoying their words as well as letting my imagination wander about previous owners. I always try to grab the store's free bookmark, if there is one, and slip it into to the book as a reminder of where it was purchased.

    Berea College intrigues me in its mission to educate and how it goes about it.

    1. I am a great one for buying books as souvenirs, Penny, and I have a nice selection of bookmarks from my travels. Isn't it fun to have a passion!

      I read that Berea College's yearly costs are 75 percent funded by its endowment fund, some state and federal funds, and private donations. The free tuition for each student is the equivalent of about $21,000 a year. Wow!