Hub City Bookshop Bolsters Spartanburg's Literary Community

The bricked sidewalk meanders a bit as it works its way west from Morgan Square in Downtown Spartanburg, and it seems only fitting that it should for a city that has taken its own winding revitalization path. As anyone here will tell you, it wasn't all that long ago when those picturesque paths on W. Main Street were mostly empty past the clock tower and the famed statue that gives Spartanburg's town square its name.

Today though, the western end of downtown-known as the Grain District since 2010-is bustling with activity, and at its center, in the ground floor of an 85-year-old Masonic Temple, is Spartanburg's nexus of literary community, Hub City Bookshop.

Sitting adjacent to Little River Coffee Bar and Cakehead Bakeshop (both of whom lease space from Hub City), and with covered outdoor seating available under the Masonic Temple's columned facade, Hub City Bookshop is far from typical in this age of big box stores and online retailers. Sure, the 2,000-square-foot space houses many of the same bestsellers you can find in those big chain stores, but like a lot of independent bookstores, the staff-along with a cadre of volunteers-at Hub City are true literary aficionados with the "staff picks" shelf to prove it.

But none of that really sets Hub City Bookshop apart from other independent bookstores. What does is the shop's unique place in the community. Hub City Bookshop is a Spartanburg original in every sense, particularly in the role it serves as the retail face of the Hub City Writers Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bolstering Spartanburg's vibrant literary community.

In the 15 years prior to the opening of their same-named bookstore, the HCWP had made a name for itself in the independent publishing world. Focusing on both fiction and nonfiction works with "an emphasis on the Southern experience" and "a strong sense of place," the HCWP had released dozens of titles by local and regional writers through its publishing arm, Hub City Press, but after Spartanburg's last independent bookstore closed in 2006, the organization was in serious trouble. "Local book sales of Hub City Press titles had plunged. In fact, they had dropped to a dangerous level and we were beginning to discuss the survival of the press," recalls Hub City Writers Project Executive Director Betsy Teter.

Walking past the Masonic Temple, whose lower level had been empty for some time, Teter came up with the idea for a bookshop, a place that would allow the HCWP to do something most other independent publishers can't, control its own destiny. Supporters in Spartanburg rallied behind the idea, raising $300,000 to renovate the space, allowing Hub City Bookshop opened its doors in July of 2010.

Over three years in, Hub City Bookshop is thriving and has allowed the organization behind it to continue serving the Spartanburg community exactly as Teter had hoped. "By opening the store, our local book sales increased by $25,000 in the first year and have stayed at that level since," she offers.

The bookshop serves as a showcase for the organization's own releases, and creates an important, stable funding stream for the rest of the HCWP's mission, funneling proceeds from book sales back towards publishing and literary programming which includes creative writing workshops, scholarships, two writer-in-residence programs, and dozens of literary events each year.

Crucially, the bookshop has become the location for many of those literary events Hub City brings to Spartanburg, featuring writers from around the country. As much as the HCWP has bolstered Spartanburg's literary community through giving local writers an outlet that otherwise wouldn't exist, so too Hub City Bookshop has given those local writers and readers a space they didn't have before, providing a boost to Spartanburg's bourgeoning downtown as well. "Hub City has always had a second mission to help build a sense of community in Spartanburg, and providing redevelopment in the central business district through a gathering spot such as this, brings local people together in important ways," said Teter.

Christopher George is a freelance writer and multimedia professional from Spartanburg. He is a former editor and publisher of the Spartanburg Spark, and his writing and video work has appeared in numerous online and print publications including Mountain Xpress in Asheville, NC and in titles by the Hub City Writers Project.