In May 1995, journalist Betsy Teter and two other ambitious Spartanburg, S.C., writers had the idea to publish an anthology about their home, a blue-collar/college town of 40,000, as a first step toward establishing a literary community to help preserve the evolving city's sense of place and history. In the 15 years since Hub City Anthology was released, Teter's nonprofit Hub City Writer's Project has become Spartanburg's go-to cultural organizer. In addition to publishing some 45 books through its Hub City Press, the project has established a number of programs, including an annual summer writers' conference (currently in its 11th year), scholarships to North Carolina's Wild-acres retreat, a citywide artists-in-residence program (called Hub-Bub), writers' workshops, concerts, and arts conventions. Last June, the project opened an independent bookstore, which, in fewer than six months, has already met its yearly goal, bringing in more than $100,000 to plow back into the project.
"We went into [the bookstore] with low expectations," Teter said. "Everybody else in the world was getting out of the bookstore business, so we said, hey, let's get in!" Spartanburg's longtime for-profit independent bookseller Pic-a-Book closed in 2006, creating a vacuum for the community as well as for Hub City itself. "We have a Barnes & Noble in town," Teter said, "but it isn't terribly friendly to regional and local book producers." Teter and company found themselves "with all this financial support from the community," but no place in town to sell their books. The answer, which came to Teter in the middle of an autumn night in 2009, was the Hub City Bookshop. By January 1, 2010, project members were raising money; by February, work had started; by March, they had raised the $250,000 needed to complete their renovations. Located in the first floor of the downtown Masonic temple, the Hub City Bookshop opened last June with a crowd of 1,000 in attendance and quickly became a lively gathering spot and money maker. The location also houses the Writer's Project offices, and extra space is rented to a coffee shop and bakery.
Teter said she considers the store "an indie store for serious readers," specializing in literary fiction and nonfiction. The shop does not carry romance, how-to, or travel, but along with Hub City Press titles, stocks a sampling of everything else, including children's/YA, sports, humor, poetry, mystery, food, and sci-fi. It also has sections for used books and "the best of independent presses." The nonprofit model has worked exceedingly well for the new store, with 10 volunteers working the register (including Nancy Kenny, formerly with Bantam Doubleday Dell and Holt) under the supervision of one full-time manager. The store also has two part-time clerks, while Teter takes a regular shift along with Kari Jackson, assistant director of the Writer's Project. "Our community supports us at a really high level," said Teter.
Of course, community support is also vital. But Wanda Jewell, executive director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, noted that the nonprofit bookstore model won't work in any given town, even one with a need like Spartanburg's. "It takes more than a unique opportunity," she told PW. "It takes a person with a passion and commitment like Betsy's, someone with a vision who can integrate and mobilize a community—at no pay—in support of it." Though many independent shops have nonprofit arms (such as Fairhope, Ala.'s Page & Palette), there are only a handful of truly not-for-profit bookstores nationwide. Jewell noted admiringly that Betsy has "busted her ass" for a decade and a half just to lay the groundwork for such a venture.
As for the press, it has eight books scheduled for 2011, and the 15-member editorial board recently welcomed longtime Atlantic Monthly fiction editor C. Michael Curtis. Curtis, along with a couple of 2010 Independent Publisher Book Awards, have helped boost Hub City Press's profile, but regional and national aspirations ("We probably do 50% titles by authors in our home territory and 50% outside now") won't unseat Spartanburg as the heart of the group's mission: "We live in a town where people are very interested in preserving our downtown, preserving our identity, and we are proud to have become the vehicle for that," said Teter.