The next time you take a drive down East Broadway to Five Points, take a closer look at the little building just past the roundabout, the one with the red and yellow USED BOOKS sign on it, the one with bells tied to the door handle that clatter on your way in. Do yourself a favor and take a stroll inside.
On the right day, it’s a crowded little store with wooden floors and rows of wooden bookcases chock-full of books from every genre- fiction, nonfiction, poetry, prose. On rotating metal racks are chic sixties vintage paperback copies of novels. One can find a copy of Camus’ The Stranger in French, a book on the history of American politics, environmentalist critiques, Dungeon Master guides, manga, horror by Lovecraft, sci-fi by Clark, westerns by L’amour, textbooks on biology and poems by Langston Hughes.
The selection beats any used bookstore in the greater Maryville area, and in terms of quality, perhaps McKay’s as well. The shelves line the walls on every side, save the open wall leading into café, which smells of homemade sweets, fresh bread and savory sandwiches. There’s a nice little niche in the center of the store with comfortable couches, a tiny coffee table, complete with newspapers and avid reading regulars. The clientele is as diverse as the city of Maryville, and yet around the coffee table is a sense of community. A strong selection of vinyls are tucked away in the back corner; up at the counter are the collectibles: figurines, DVD’s and toys.
However, it is not the collectibles that keep the front of the store so alive and talkative; rather, it is co-owner Lisa Misosky manning the register. She talks with the locals, whom she knows by name and who come in regularly to socialize. She always has a book at arm’s reach, her speech is very frank and very honest. Behind the books, the people are her business.
Having been asked for an interview, Lisa needs not a moment to prepare. For her and her business partner, Catherine Frye, it is a simple tale of a simple store; but her presence, her smile and perhaps her whole philosophy makes one feel as though this local store is something bigger.
“You gotta have fun with work. Otherwise, it’s just work,” says Misosky.
Misosky’s formed her vision for the store over 20 years ago. She started out as an employee of the store in 1992 back before it ever made its debut on East Broadway. In 1999, Misosky bought the store from its previous owner. In 2002, Misosky made the move to the East Broadway location. A year and a half ago, the store bought the building in which now resides and considers its permanent home. Buying the whole building allowed Southland to annex the adjoining room, which had previously been home to another business. The new space would become Southland Café, whose counter is now manned daily by co-owner, Catherine Frye.
Bookshops are a steady business, one would expect even with ownership changing hands, the operations of the store would have stayed much the same. Nevertheless, the duo has set an ambitious goal for the community. The local business is in the business of giving back.
“We’ve spent a lot of time, money and effort in promoting and helping to fund local libraries and school libraries,” said Misosky. “We’ve put a lot of time and money into pre-kindergarten education as well as elementary school libraries.”
The store is the largest single donator of books to the Blount County Public Library, donating between 500 and 700 books monthly. Misosky also helped to start the eBay store for the library as well. Misosky says the goal is to keep money flowing into the library system and to raise an educated youth for tomorrow in the Blount County community.
“I think you kind of have a moral obligation to give back, and if you’re not doing that, then you have no business being in business,” said Misosky.
Another goal of the Southland is to provide cheap text in print. The store really feels there is no replacement for the feel and functionality of a book in the hand. When asked about the e-reader market, Misosky really feels there is no competition.
“I remember 8 years ago when everyone was talking about e-readers. Now people complain about vision problems, eyestrain and headache. I can stare at this book for three hours, no problem,” said Misosky. “You can buy this book from me for 3 or 4 bucks; you get a download, it’s gonna cost you 10. Then you got it and you can’t trade it back in. You’re stuck with it. For the past few years, print sales are up and downloads are down.”
When you walk across the store, through the dining area, you come to the café counter, where Frye takes orders. There is glass display with the day’s desserts, adjacent to the counter is a menu of sandwiches all bearing names of famous thinkers from history and Sheldon Cooper. The sandwich menu is diverse. Most of the items are gluten free, burger patties included, some are vegetarian and vegan.
“We knew we wanted to do sandwiches based on science guys,” said Misosky, “We are both nerds at heart.”
Behind is an extensive menu of beverages. The hot drinks are named after famous authors and literary characters, the smoothies after painters, the iced coffee after musical artists, and the iced teas and lemonades after masters of cinema.
“Everything we do here is homemade,” said Frye. “We bake everything here, all of our bread. We roast our own chicken, and we make our own hummus and pimento cheese. We try to use local produce as much as possible. It’s more homemade food that isn’t too expensive but is good quality.I like that we do as much as possible from scratch. That we don’t use preservatives and that we help locally. We’re local anyways, and so we do as much with local farms and local food as possible.
The café also offers catering services for weddings, ballgames, private dinners, as well as to the Brewery downstairs.
The café also has its hand in the community. It provides lunches for the Little River Montessori School daily and for teachers of Rockford Elementary on Fridays, as well as Blount Memorial Hospital. It is a participant in the Downtown Maryville Farmer’s Market, selling mostly chicken salad, bread, pimiento cheese, and pickles. Lastly, the dining room serves as a meeting place rented out by many local groups ranging from knitting clubs to the Blount County Democrats.
To sum it up, Southland Books and Café is a hub of local Maryville culture. It is a place where people come to speak, to eat and to better themselves. Moreover, it is a business supporting the community in all of the small ways that really make a difference. It is a humble store of humble people just a stone’s throw from campus. Southland is a store of tangible things, things that are still made, thumbed through, bought and sold all in an exchange of hands.