Book Lover’s Paradise: Meet Vickie Crafton of Litchfield Books
By Connie Barnard
There’s an ad on television featuring a montage of aging adults in various settings. Each segment captures a different person smiling at us through the camera lens, giving a unique and personal response to these words: “When I grow up I want to…” Somehow, this ad strikes a deep chord, even though I don’t remember what it is selling. There’s irony, of course, with these old people talking about growing up, but it goes a bit deeper, don’t you agree? Many of us carry around half-serious dreams regarding what we would do if we could choose another life, another job, another pursuit of happiness. Mine has always been to own a bookstore. Not one of those Big Box things – but a small, light-filled place with great books to read, customers who love to read them and opportunities to come together frequently to share this common passion – a literary salon of sorts, Southern-style. In other words, I would like to own Litchfield Books.
Fortunately for all concerned, Vickie Crafton beat me to that punch. In 2001 she and her husband Tom Warner purchased the Pawleys Island landmark from its original owners, Carolyn and Dean Berry, who first opened the doors of Litchfield Books in 1987. Vickie and Carolyn became neighbors when Crafton bought her Pawleys Island home while living and working in the fashion industry in New York. She says, “Like many others here, I had first come to Pawleys in my youth. It is a part of my life, a part of who I am. While living in New York, I felt a need to continue that connection. I bought my place here and moved my state residency directly from Kentucky to South Carolina.”
The tall, casually elegant Vickie met her husband Tom Warner through their mutual careers in the apparel industry. When Tom’s work as an executive with Graniteville Mills took him to South Carolina, Vickie moved her work base to nearby Aiken where they lived until his retirement in 1998. The couple then settled here permanently. “It took a bit of convincing to get Tom to move here,” Vickie says. “He did not yet grasp the mystique of Pawleys Island, but it didn’t take him long to fall under its spell.”
For years Crafton had said she’d like to own Litchfield Books. In 2001, not long after the couple settled into their new life here, she was presented with the opportunity to do just that. The Berrys had made the decision to sell the store. Vickie laughs today as she looks back on it all: Be careful what you wish for! Neither Tom nor she had ever been involved with a bookstore, and Vickie’s on-going consulting work required a lot of her time. Yet somehow, she just knew they should go for it. A decade later, hundreds of local residents and summer visitors could not imagine this corner of the world without the special place which defines it in so many ways.
Building on the legacy established by the Berrys, Vickie and Tom have expanded in new directions by regularly inviting both nationally renowned and newly-discovered authors for book-signings at the store. They expanded in a literal sense as well by acquiring the property next door and doubling the store’s space. “This allowed us to open up and spread out a bit,” Crafton says. The enlarged store also made it possible to add an in-store postal service and an interesting assortment of gifts and greeting cards, as well as personalized stationery and invitations. For gift and stationery selections, she draws on her corporate background, choosing quality items made in the U.S., preferably in the South, which customers might not be able to find back home.
“Because we are a small store,” Vickie says, “we have to be selective in our inventory, always with a clear understanding of our customers and their interests. We are constantly making changes throughout the store to reflect their needs and their interests.” This is especially true of book selection. Specializing in current fiction and regional history, the store also has an excellent children’s section and an impressive, hand-picked assortment of special interest and general works.
Emphasis on quality and individual attention has proven to be a winning formula, even with a challenging economy and the advent of electronic readers. One local patron said, “When I walk into Litchfield Books, I am usually on a mission, whether it is to find the perfect card or a specific book. I know I will see the familiar faces of Tom, Vickie, Bonnie or Carol, their experienced staff members. Several months ago, when looking for a copy of Pat Conroy’s early novel The Great Santini, I first went to a large chain store where the staff assistant took me to the non-fiction books dealing with magic. I guess he confused Santini with Houdini! I then drove down to Litchfield Books. Tom was working with a book cart near the front of the store when I walked in. Without even turning around, he reached over to the shelf behind him and handed me a copy of the Conroy book.”
As with most business enterprises in the area, the summer people are important to Litchfield Books. Many have vacationed here for generations. Year after year they come to the same house for the same weeks and do the same things. Mary Johnson of Winnsboro, South Carolina, first came to Litchfield Beach as a child with her parents in the 1950s. She has returned almost every year, even as she moved around the world with her husband’s military career. Her three children now join them each year with their own families. Mary says, “When I come to Litchfield, I don’t want to go anywhere. Even a trip up the road to Brookgreen is sometimes too far. The only time I leave the beach is to buy groceries and visit Litchfield Books.” In addition to its great card selection, Mary says, “I like shopping at a store that sponsored ‘Radio Reader.’ I also like spending time there surrounded by books – instead of seven noisy grandchildren.”
Shortly after purchasing the store, Tom and Vickie began working through publishing houses to bring talented, interesting authors in for book-signing and lectures. Amazingly, these have become weekly events, drawing world famous writers such as David Baldacci, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Gilbert, Pat Conroy, Jodi Piccoult, and part-time Pawleys residents, Cokie and Steve Roberts. They also look for talented, relatively unknown authors on the brink of fame. Often these events are in conjunction with the popular Friday Moveable Feast luncheons which the store co-sponsors with Linda Ketron’s CLASS at Pawleys program. The store also hosts additional book-signing events for writers who draw crowds too large for local dining venues or whose schedules preclude the Friday events. Anna Fitzgerald, of Charlotte and Murrells Inlet, attends the functions frequently. She says of them, “It is truly phenomenal that a small, independent bookstore in our tucked-away corner of the South has continued to bring in such talent almost every week for over a decade. The larger cities do not have anything like this, nor do the mega bookstores.”
Crafton says that when they first visited the large publishing houses in an effort to bring writers to these events, the publicists looked in them in wonder. Not one had ever sent a writer to South Carolina on a book tour! Over time, however, Pawleys Island has become such a popular choice that quite often they are approached by the publicists. Carl Lennetz, former marketing director of Harper Collins currently serving as executive director of World Book Night, attributes their success to large supplies of talent, hard work and attention to detail: “In New York publishing circles, Vickie and Tom are known for hosting some of the best author events in the country. They offer two things every author wants – a warm welcome and a big crowd – and they deliver every time. They are professional, generous and a pure joy to work with.”
It is probably best for all concerned that Vickie Crafton stole my dream of owning Litchfield Books. Let’s face it, old English teachers should not try to make a living that way. I’d probably just sit around and read all day, oblivious to the hard work needing to be done. Despite the many challenges, Vickie and Tom know that every day they open the store’s doors they are helping to make this uniquely interesting community even more so. But, like all independent businesses, they need our support. “The Pawleys area is a very special place,” Crafton says, “and we need to do all we can to help keep it that way.”
A bookstore is the only place we have where people are still thinking.
About this writer
- Connie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.