Randy Shell, owner of Oracle Books in Wytheville, Virginia, had a simple yet potent mission when opening the used book and record shop in late 2018.
“People asked me, do you really want to open a bookstore? Can you make a living?” he says. “I said I’m not looking for a living, I’m looking for a lifestyle.”
And, in that regard, he appears to be succeeding in spades. Upon entry to the downtown shop, Randy greeted me with a friendly smile, a fresh cup of coffee, and some questions about what I might be shopping for – a bookseller with a genuine interest in getting to know his customers.
“The fun is in the mix, the interaction between me and the customers, and between the customers themselves,” he said in a 2019 interview with Book City Roanoke. “I want people to linger and exchange ideas. That’s what a bookstore is all about.”
And it’s the kind of vibe you can expect at Oracle Books. The tall shelves in the shop’s front room are stocked full of fiction in a variety of genres – classics, fantasy, contemporary, children’s.
A stroll down the hall leads to a second room containing mostly non-fiction works and an impressive collection of records – a component to the shop that was added when Randy found himself continuously being offered stashes of LPs when buying book lots.
While I didn’t explore it during my quick stop through town, there’s also a basement in the shop that he uses for book sales, and as the world emerges from COVID-19 quarantine, he’s open to events like live music and author signings.
If my bookstore explorations have revealed anything, it’s that indie bookshops owners (especially, it seems, those specializing in used and antiquarian books) are great sources of local information and encapsulate a town’s charm and character. During my stop, I heard tales of dogs and chickens passing through the shop, discovered another author with whom I’m Facebook friends lives nearby, got some dog-friendly restaurant recommendations, and learned that the local library was hosting a used book sale down the street.
Nestled right on Main Street, surrounded by shops and cafes, Oracle Books is a perfect example of a charming small-town bookshop.
Oracle Books is located at 275 West Main Street, Wytheville, Virginia. The shop is open Wednesday through Saturday or by appointment.