Carlie and Lloyd Tomlinson had a very eventful 2020. The couple married, moved, bought a house, and opened Appalachian Books in Norton, Virginia, all in the span of a few months. It was a goal that they imagined would take years, until serendipity – and the COVID-19 pandemic – altered their plans.
When the pandemic led Carlie to be furloughed from her job, and thwarted their planned honeymoon, the couple found themselves staying with Lloyd’s parents in Lee County, Virginia.
“We were supposed to go to Paris for our honeymoon, and instead we came to Lee County, Virginia,” said Carlie with a laugh. “But what is that if not the Paris of southwest Virginia?”
It was during the pandemic downtime that Carlie began to reexamine her future goals.
“Like a lot of people, I just had way more time on my hands than I ever had before. I was like, well, what do I want to do? I looked at Lloyd and I said, ‘I want to move back, and I want to open a bookstore.’”
The couple, who had been living in West Virginia while Lloyd worked on his doctorate in history from West Virginia University, moved back to Virginia last summer and began selling books online.
“We had been doing a few online sales,” Lloyd says. “We had been using it as a way to empty out our own personal collections while moving.”
The concept for the online store, which was called Book Wise at the time because of their plan to move to the neighboring town of Wise, was an intriguing concept of matching readers with suitable books.
“You would go in and take a quiz that would match you with a book we had in stock,” Carlie says. “Then you would receive a care package with the book, a handwritten note, some coffee or tea, and so it was a comfort item.”
While the online venture got off to a solid start, the couple began to save money for a physical space: a bookmobile. While saving up to purchase a van, inspiration struck during a walk through downtown Norton.
“I saw a sign that said ‘For Rent or Sale,’” says Carlie. “I thought, I wonder how much that building is? We can’t afford it. There would be no way. Well, it turns out we could afford it.”
So the couple set to work converting the former florist shop into a brick and mortar independent bookstore – a venture that required very little overhead to become functional.
“The shelves were already here,” Lloyd says. “I would be surprised if we spent over $200 on our own supplies.”
Now the quaint corner store is home to an expanding collection of mostly secondhand books spanning the genres. There are regionally themed books, a nice Staff Picks section, and books by local and regional authors. There is also a small table of new books for sale, as well as some sitting areas to skim selections. The Tomlinsons are also expanding into live events, such as open mic readings, children’s story hours, board game nights, and bag sales.
And there are some exciting aesthetic changes coming as well. Appalachian Books recently received a $12,000 grant from the City of Norton to update the shop.
“The City of Norton’s Industrial Development Authority had a small business competition and, as part of it, you had to attend six weeks of classes,” says Lloyd. “At the end of that, you had to submit a business plan and a pitch in the style of Shark Tank.”
The giant check now sits on display inside the shop. And with the renovations coming in the months ahead, a return visit to Appalachian Books will soon be on the agenda. The town holds a special significance for me personally. My mom was born in the area, and we spent many a summer vacation there with relatives. It had been nearly 25 years since my last visit, and seeing Appalachian Books becoming a vibrant part of what looks to be an exciting downtown renaissance was a lovely surprise.
Appalachian Books is located at 716 Park Avenue in Norton, Virginia. The shop is open Wednesday through Sunday.