Downtown Books & News, the younger-sister store to Asheville’s Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, will celebrate its 29th anniversary on Saturday, July 1. The store will mark the anniversary with a reception and the opening of an art exhibit featuring Emöke B’Racz, the store’s owner and founder, and members of the B’Racz family. The exhibit will run through July 31. The event is open to the public.
The mixed media exhibit includes work by B’Racz her sister, Piri B’Racz Gibson, her brother-in-law (and Piri’s husband), Andrew Gibson, and her nephew (Piri’s and Andrew’s son), Gareth Jesse Gibson.
“As young people, my siblings and I divided up the arts among us,” B’Racz said with a smile: “I was the writer, Piri the visual artist, and my brother, Istvan, the musician. We would get together–Andrew and Gareth later joined the group–to talk and listen to music, to paint and to draw. It brought us great joy, and supported us when any of us was in low spirits. I remember similar happy evenings at our family home with my parents and their friends when I was a child in Hungary. Sitting around the table, they discussed everything from politics to art. My mother, in particular, loved poetry, so reciting poetry was a part of the evenings. Looking back, I’m sure that this is where I first felt the joy of joining art and community.”
“Most of my life,” B’Racz continued, “writing has come easily, but there was a period when words completely failed me. I had a dream at the time, and in that dream, I heard a voice saying ‘Paint what you write, and write what you paint.’ I took the message seriously. That was when I started to make art. I used whatever material was around — acrylic paint, but also shoe polish, chopsticks, you name it. I worked intuitively, with color as my inspiration.”
B’Racz started Downtown Books & News in 1988 in response to comments from Malaprop’s customers that they could not always afford to buy new books. “I wanted to create a place that shared Malaprop’s values and high standards, but with gently-used books, newspapers, and magazines. Over the years, DBN has grown to hold nearly 30,000 used and rare books. We have wonderfully tall walls, so about four years ago we decided to take advantage of them by creating a gallery space for art exhibits.”
Malaprop’s and DBN have a close relationship. “If a customer comes to Malaprop’s looking for a book that’s not currently on our shelves and that the customer wants right away,” says B’Racz, “we call to see if DBN has it in stock. It feels good to be able to provide that extra service and get a book into our customers’ hands quickly.
Julian Vorus, who worked at Malaprop’s before moving to DBN, has managed the store for over a decade. “Some people find it surprising that we’re not dependent on Asheville’s tourist trade for our livelihood. Although we definitely welcome out-of-town visitors, our bread-and-butter is the loyal locals who come back year after year–and week after week–to see what’s new to our shelves.” Vorus notes that the store has opened every day of the year since its founding 29 years ago, including Christmas Day, when many other retail establishments are closed. “I’ve never required anyone to work on Christmas,” says Vorus. “But someone invariably volunteers. At first we stayed open because we wanted customers to be able to get their daily newspaper, but it has become a kind of celebratory day for the store, sometimes with a spontaneous potluck.”