That Bookstore in Blytheville

In the early 1970s, Mary Gay Shipley, then a schoolteacher, saw a void in her hometown and opened a paperback exchange store affiliated with a Memphis, Tennessee, group called The Book Rack. Ultimately, she found a space in a former jewelry store in downtown Blytheville (Mississippi County). The bookstore has remained at 316 W. Main Street since 1976. Though locals called it “that bookstore” for years, the store did not become officially known as That Bookstore in Blytheville until 1994.

The store’s varied selections of fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature occupy over 2,400 square feet. That Bookstore in Blytheville specialized in Southern writers and books on Southern culture, with emphasis on the work of Arkansas writers. A champion of literacy, Shipley used the store to promote reading among local schoolchildren. Children’s reading materials—and educational toys and games—were located in the homey back room, complete with a stove and wooden floors. The back room also hosted reading groups, musical performances, and author signings and readings. Authors sign their names on a series of wooden chairs; they often read from their work while seated in a rocking chair.

Since the early 1980s, the Mississippi Delta town of Blytheville has become a much-visited spot by writers from large and small publishing houses. Lacking the diversity and size of such cities as Jackson, Mississippi, and Memphis, or the literary atmosphere of a university town like Oxford, Mississippi, Blytheville hosted at That Bookstore at least one signing or reading per week, with audience members from town (its population is fewer than 20,000), as well as the surrounding areas, including nearby Jonesboro (Craighead County) and the Missouri Bootheel. Among the hundreds of writers who have read or signed at That Bookstore are Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with John Grisham, Jack Butler, Lewis Nordan, and Jennifer Paddock, to name but a few.

In 2012, Shipley sold the bookstore to Grant Hill, remaining in an advisory role. Blytheville native Chris Crawley bought the store in 2014 but was unable to keep it open, and the store closed in 2017. Locals Andrew and Erin Langston Carrington bought the store and changed the name to Blytheville Book Company. After renovations, reopened the store in 2018.

For additional information:
Blytheville Book Company. http://blythevillebookcompany.com/ (accessed June 7, 2018).

Broun, Dan. “The Divine Secrets of That Bookstore in Blytheville: How an Independent Bookstore Survives in the 21st Century Marketplace.” In Ducks, Documentaries, & Design. Carrboro, NC: Regional Technology Strategies, 2008.

Weatherly, Jack. “The Next Chapter of That Bookstore in Blytheville Unfolds.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 18, 2012, pp. 1G, 8G.

Williams, Tom. “Blytheville’s Angel for the ‘Book-Needy’: An Interview with Mary Gay Shipley.” Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies 36 (April 2005): 3–15.

Tom Williams
Arkansas State University

Last Updated: 08/08/2019

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