A local treasure: Southland Books & Café

Lisa Misosky is a co-owner of Southland Books & Cafe in Maryville, Tenn., a quaint and endearing local bookstore and cafe. Photo by Sherilyn Smith.
Lisa Misosky is a co-owner of Southland Books & Cafe in Maryville, Tenn., a quaint and endearing local bookstore and cafe. Photo by Sherilyn Smith.

Tucked away in a corner of Maryville, Tennessee on 1505 and 1507 Broadway Ave., next to  the hookah shop, The Rabbit Hole, and its attic tattoo parlor, The Tattooed Lady, is Southland Books & Café. This reading nook and foodie joint is found amongst a variety of locally owned haunts in an area of Blount County riddled with small, independent businesses virgin to the hustle and noise of an overcrowded tourist industry. This part of town is packed with Mexican, Chinese, Jamaican and Cuban restaurants alike.

Southland Books & Cafe was founded in 1992 by David Slough. Over the last decade, it has changed locations and owners until finding its home on East Broadway and is now run by co-owners Lisa Misosky and Catherine Frye, who bought the business in 1999 and have been expanding and improving it ever since.

When asked if patrons should be expecting another location change out of Southland, Misosky said, “I’m done moving, I’m too old,” but also mentioned she was available for consultation for anyone else looking to enter the bookstore industry, bestowing one piece of advice for free: “Don’t do it.”

This suggestion, of course, was given in jest as Misosky went on to say she loves her job and much prefers it to the cubicle work she landed after college.

“Cubicle life is counter to how humans should be living,” Misosky says.

A substantial proponent of supporting local businesses, she states that everything in the cafe is locally sourced if it can be. The chicken is hormone and preservative free, and the cafe will soon be expanding its menu to contain more vegetarian and vegan options.

Even more exciting than the diverse menu options are the variety of quirky names given to each dish. Foods are named after fictional characters, scientists and philosophers while drinks are named after relevant artists in the music, film and novel industries.

I ordered the Sheldon Cooper and a large Glimmer Twins, an egg sandwich and an iced peanut butter and coffee beverage.

As for the books, Southland has an active eBay account and stocks the store through trade deals, book orders and books bought from customers in return for store credit. And if the store doesn’t have the book you’re looking for, Misosky will refer other places to search.

When the store gets too full, books are donated to the local library or to the local prison.

Southland also stocks vinyl, LPs, pins and a small assortment of unconventional pocket gifts.

Beth Myers-Rees, a Writing Communication major at Maryville college, has been a patron of Southland Books & Cafe since 2001, when the store was located across a pizza restaurant where Myers-Rees had been eating.

During our interview, Myers-Rees was drinking an orange spiced tea, though her usual drink at Southland was a “bottomless cup of coffee,” a deal where patrons can refill their coffee mug as much as they like for a one-time fee. Her daughter’s favorite meal at Southland is the Socrates (grilled-cheese sandwich), while Myers-Rees’s own preference is the Thomas Jefferson (chicken salad).

With The White Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends” playing in the background, Myers-Rees described Southland as, “Bohemian and eclectic, off the beaten path. [They] treat everybody like a neighbor. There are no strangers here.”

Other appearances at Southland that day were made by sports journalist and owner of Blount Press Row Stefan Cooper, who has turned the environment into a semi-office, taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi and often coming to the store for what he says are, “Hours at a stretch. [It’s] close, it’s comfortable. I always try to read the books that are gonna make me rich.”

Also at the store were Kiera Reagan, a high school senior who often comes to Southland with her father. And, lastly, Thomas McCampbell, a patron who has been working at Southland on and off since he was six-years old, though no one was sure what his title officially was, so Misosky just said to write him in as King Couch Potato.

From shelf peaks, toy vultures stared down at the random couplings of customers who walked through to browse books. The scent of the room was a mix of aging paper and something baking in the cafe.

Misosky spoke quietly with a customer at the counter while 70s music played softly on the TV. There was still the aftertaste of peanut butter and coffee in my mouth, and the side of my hand slipped along the smoothness of notebook paper as I finished the last of my notes.

A depiction of the environment can be best summed up by a sentence Ms. Myers-Rees mentioned off-handedly in her interview: “It just feels warm.”

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