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Everybody knows your name at this Southern bookstore

Talk to people who shop at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C. - recently named Bookseller of the Year by Publishers Weekly magazine - and the first thing they mention is the staff. No book is too obscure for them to find, and they often greet people by name. Authors are among their customers, including local resident and "Cold Mountain" scribe Charles Frazier ("Chuck" to owner and old friend Nancy Olson). In fact, writers nominated the store and its owner for two of the three awards they've received in 2001 in a rare, sweep of bookstore honors. In addition to Bookseller of the Year, Quail Ridge has also been honored by the Women's National Book Association for bringing children and books together. And the Southeast Booksellers Association gave an award to Ms. Olson for her business acumen.

Olson, who opened the bookstore in Raleigh 20 years ago, says Tom Peters' book "In Search of Excellence" provided her with her mantra: Make the customer happy. Those who know her say she is hard-working, community oriented, and willing to take risks -sometimes at the expense of the bottom line. Southern literature is a store specialty, but Olson has also started a section of international books and even one she calls "disabilities studies," for her special-needs customers. "We're constantly experimenting because we have to be different. There are those eight big [chain] stores looming out there," she says of the competition in what is known as "the triangle," the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.

Quail Ridge is one of three independent bookstores in the area, which is not considered a big book market. Olson relies on her staff to help her keep a competitive edge. She's always targeted the serious readers in the community, and has often included them in decisions about the store. Hundreds of customers were polled about whether to add a cafe or more inventory. "Books or coffee?" Olson asked, and "100 percent said more books," she says.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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