Interview with a Bookstore: Carmichael’s Bookstore
Bringing Literature to Louisville since 1978
Carol Besse and Michael Boggs decided to open a bookstore together after both working previously at Barbara’s Bookstore in Chicago, where Carol handled the store’s operations and Michael was in charge of the finances. They loved the work, and with this next logical step in their bookselling evolution evident, they started looking around for a place to set up shop. Both of their families were in Kentucky, and Louisville seemed to have a hole where an independent bookstore should be. The original Carmichael’s opened in 1978 in Louisville’s Highlands neighborhood. It was followed by a second location in Crescent Hill in 1999. A third store—Carmichael’s Kids—opened two doors down from the Highlands store in 2014 and caters to blossoming readers up to the Young Adult level.
What's your favorite section of the store?
Carol Besse (co-owner): Literature is the easy answer, as it’s the heart of any great bookstore, but Michael is a big non-fiction reader, and he just piped in to say so. We’ll call it a draw.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
Carol and Michael: We host a lot of author readings and other book-related events at our Crescent Hill location, and it would be amazing to have a dedicated area of the store for just that purpose. For now, we’re happy to rearrange our fixtures, which are nearly all on wheels, to accommodate the enthusiastic crowds that turn up for our events.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
Carol and Michael: We’re very good at using the whole buffalo, as the man says. From graphic design and printing to accounting and payroll to social media and PR, we keep nearly everything in-house. We also have an amazing staff that is always willing to multitask and pick up an additional role whenever we ask them to do so.
Who's your favorite regular?
Carol and Michael: Without doubt, this award is given posthumously to Charles Breslin, a bibliophile of mammoth proportions who passed away a couple years back. Everyone at the Crescent Hill store loved “Dr. B.”, who after his days as a professor were through, turned into the greatest autodidact we’ve ever seen. He was sweet and kind and brilliant and—this is the truth—entered the store laughing, every single visit. We miss you Dr. B.!
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
Carol and Michael: Probably agreeing to host Stephen King at a 2,300 seat outdoor amphitheater the day after the owners’ daughter (who is also the manager of the Crescent Hill store) was married. The combined planning for that weekend left the entire chain-of-command at Carmichael’s just a touch scatterbrained.
If you weren’t running or working at a bookstore, what would you be doing?
Carol and Michael: Carol would most definitely be birding. Michael would be somewhere being a lot less happy than he is right now.
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
Carol and Michael: That of the thousands of books published each year, how few truly break through to a large audience. Folks still browse and ask the staff for recommendations and find things they might not have known they wanted, but as far as customer requests, it’s amazing how we almost always have that book on hand. It’s satisfying to know that if you pay attention and know your stuff, you can consistently have what people are/will be looking for.
SLIDESHOW: Carmichael’s Bookstore Staff Recommendations