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Constance Alexander: Murray bookstore offers stroll through ‘splendid garden’ of vintage, rare books

Used, vintage and rare, the books in Murray’s newest bookstore – Bolin Books – beckon visitors from near and far, inspiring conversations and acquisitions relating to topics quotidian, complex and anywhere in between.

On the east end of Main Street at 304, Bolin’s Books is nestled between an insurance agent and a boutique. A glimpse through the front window reveals holiday lights and a pyramid of books with a star on top. Inside, an archway of books is affixed to the west wall, created by the co-owner’s sister, Cammie Jo Bolin, and her husband, Matthew Baker.

Big brother Wesley Bolin co-owns the operation with his wife, Whitney Jones Bolin, with help from the other Ms. Bolin, Wesley and Cammie Jo’s mom, Evelyn. This is a family operation that includes books from the collection of J. Duane Bolin, patriarch, professor and noted historian who provided energy and encouragement for the fledgling enterprise before his unexpected death in August.

(Photo provided)

When asked how this committed crew manages the flow of work associated with their small business, Wesley Bolin filled in the backstory.

“I have these fully articulated big ideas,” he said, the sweep of his arm taking in the whole of Main Street, the western Kentucky region, and perhaps even the universe.

He described how weekends and breaks from his job as a teacher at Murray High School gave him time to hunt down books for the shop, but interrupted himself to greet the coach of Calloway County High School’s academic team. That sparked a memory of his own teenage days when he was on the team he now coaches at MHS.

“I like the idea of designing a bookstore for the academic team,” he said with a nod to several members of the current team who had stopped in to browse. “They are who I was,” Bolin declared.

Whitney Jones Bolin reminded him that the connections he has made – and kept — over the years, including attendance at Governor’s School, have forged a path to future customers and supporters of Bolin’s Books.

Whitney is in charge of the everyday details of the business. On Thanksgiving weekend, she was available to give tours of the store and answer questions about pricing and organizing.

Her commitment to the success of the business is unswerving. “I’ve had to force myself to take breaks,” she confessed.

As a child, her favorite toys were crayons and coloring books. “I have wanted to draw and design graphics since I was a little kid,” she explained, mentioning that her interest led her to design the bookstore logo, a proud achievement.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

“Seeing something I designed and created after many, many hours of playing and practicing in Illustrator is incredibly exciting and personally fulfilling,” she said.

“I’ve wanted this to happen for over a decade,” Wesley remarked.

Whitney added that the dream began to take shape during Covid. “When we talked about what we wanted to do, we decided we wanted to create a place where people can stop and talk. We wanted to build community.”

“And we’re incredibly thankful to be in a community that supports reading,” Wesley said.

They almost finish each other’s sentences but do not interrupt or speak out of turn.

Visitors to the store on Thanksgiving weekend, which was also Small Business Saturday, represented many ages and multiple reading interests.

Currently, there are two book-filled rooms. Moving toward the back of the narrow building, several other rooms await shelving and other accessories that will make visitors welcome to spend a few minutes or a whole day checking out the possibilities.

“We’re working on the children’s section today,” Whitney said. “It shares space with fiction and YA for now, but it will have its own dedicated room in the final store layout, complete with a special entrance.”

According to writer Hilary Mantel, “I am very happy in second-hand bookshops; would a gardener not be happy in a garden?”

Bolin Books, a garden of earthly and divine delights, is open Saturdays from 10 to 5 and Sundays from 1 to 5. During the holiday season, the shop will be open for evening activities downtown, including the upcoming Christmas Parade. Other hours may be arranged by appointment.

For more information, visit BolinBooks on Facebook and www.bolinbooks.com. Visitors are invited to follow along on Instagram, Twitter or Tiktok. Book clubs are in the works.

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