Where the Family Business Is Selling Books


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — To outsiders, Kentucky’s largest city may be best known for its active bourbon distilleries, a baseball bat factory, famous fried chicken and a certain horse race run the first Saturday in May, but just ask someone there where to buy a book. “Carmichael’s,” said one longtime resident, “is a Louisville institution.”

The year 2019 has already been a big one for Carmichael’s Bookstore. The city’s oldest independent bookseller just celebrated its 41st birthday in April. But in January, Carol Besse and Michael Boggs, the couple who founded the store in 1978, officially passed on ownership to the next generation: their daughter, Miranda Blankenship, and niece, Kelly Estep.

Both Blankenship, 37, and Estep, 44, grew up working in the store. Despite having parents as booksellers, Blankenship didn’t jump right into the family business at first, going off to study in criminal justice in college. “I honestly kind of rebelled away in the early days,” she said, but eventually rejoined the staff after realizing she enjoyed helping people find the right book, whether offering suggested reads or tracking down the right title based on a half-remembered description. “Every day here is different. I realized I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day,” she said.

Estep’s mother (Besse’s sister) has been a longtime Carmichael’s employee and Estep herself has been working at the store on and off since she was 14, dusting shelves and learning the fundamentals of the retail business at an early age. “Although we are new owners and we’re still fairly young, we have a lot of experience and that’s a good thing,” said Estep.

Established in a city that still makes a lot of its own stuff, Carmichael’s Bookstore — now expanded to two locations and a children’s shop — has a reputation for knowledgeable employees, community involvement and strong support of area authors. “I think the ‘buy local’ movement is thriving here in Louisville and I think it’s growing across the country,” said Blankenship.

The older Carmichael’s Bookstore at 1295 Bardstown Road recently had a growth spurt as well. Last fall, the store expanded into the space left by an adjacent Heine Brothers’ coffee shop that moved across the street. Even with the additional square footage, the Bardstown Road store is still packed with a wide selection of new books, magazines, greeting cards and literary-themed gift items like T-shirts, tote bags, buttons and fabric Sylvia Plath and Zora Neale Hurston dolls.



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