Neil Gaiman wrote in his novel “American Gods,” that a “town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling a soul.” It is a place like Southland Books, run by owner Lisa Misosky, to which Gaiman was likely referring.
A native of Blount County, Misosky spent part of her childhood in Alaska before moving back to Tennessee with her mother in 1982. She graduated from Maryville High School in 1986 and went on to attend the University of Tennessee. After college, Misosky started working at a bookstore, now Southland Books. David Slough previously owned the store, and Misosky spent five hours the first day of its opening helping Slough organize.
Six months later, she was working full-time, handling most of the work that came in. Misosky took over ownership of the store from Slough in 1999. In 2004, the bookstore relocated from its original location in Cornerstone Square to the M&R building, a little farther up Broadway. The cafe was also introduced during this time. When Southland began to outgrow the space, it moved just up the road again, this time into the old Drake Auto Parts building. Southland now serves as an investor in the local community. Its publishing branch, called 27/37 Publishing, reprints local and out-ofprint regional history books, such as one written by the late Bert Garner. In agreement with the family, 20 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the book are donated to the Foothills Land Conservancy, and over $2,000 has been raised for that effort.
Misosky also said that the bookstore has purchased new electronic whiteboards for Blount County’s prekindergarten programs, as well as continuously helps with fundraising for local elementary school libraries. Southland Books also employs local college students. Maryville College senior Chase Sterling currently works at Southland.
He started working in the bookstore’s café when he began college in 2009, and now does work in both the café and the store. The cafe itself is both bright and airy, with windowed front that offers a view of Broadway. Its walls are decorated with art showing scenes from the surrounding area, created by a local artist. With a 20-year lease, Misosky plans on staying in the new space. “I’m 44, and I figure I need to sell books until I’m at least 70, so that’s 26 more years,” Misosky said. “I don’t see us outgrowing this space.” Inside the store, Southland offers far more than just a few used books. It has a huge selection of various genres, even including local authors.
“I think book-selling is becoming a lost art,” Misosky said. “I think it’s up to each store, or captain of the ship so to speak, to sort of figure out what your niche is going to be, and how you can be different from everyone else and not just sell paperback crap.” Southland also hosts art shows and has become a popular music venue, with regular “Open Mic Nights.”
Recently, the staff of MC’s “Impressions” hosted one of the “Open Mic Nights,” some of them presenting their own original works. Special community events like these, as well as Misosky’s own love of books, have made Southland Books a success, the business celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. “I am lucky I get to do something I love every day,” Misosky said. “I can’t imagine anything else I’d want to do.”