Sherlock’s Books Offers a Destination for Readers and Hobbyists Alike By KEN BECK
Editor's Note: Article & photos compliments of www.wilsonlivingmagazine.com
For a budding bookstore named after the world’s most famous detective, there’s little mystery as to why Sherlock’s Book Emporium and Curiosities has proven a rousing success.
Owners Steve and Patty Guynn love books, and they are devoted to helping readers find the books they seek.
The Lebanon transplants, Steve from Nashville and Patty from Florida via New York, have a passion for the written word that began in childhood.
For Steve it was the comic books his dad brought home for him. For Patty it was the Little Golden Books her dad brought back from business trips.
Little could they have imagined that years later their book addiction would compel them to create a 16,000-square-foot bookstore that is one of the largest independent bookstores in the South. But it’s far more than just another bookstore as it draws customers not only from Lebanon but Murfreesboro, Brentwood, Cookeville, Nashville, Knoxville and Bowling Green, Ky.
“One person said this place sort of reminded him of a Hard Rock Café, but, unlike Hard Rock’s items on the walls, the memorabilia is for sale here,” said Steve.
Indeed, the appeal is beyond the thousands of new books perched around the bright and airy interior. Sherlock’s Books presents multiple attractions from hobby shop to movie theater, from nostalgia store to remote-control racetrack and from chic café to video-gaming site.
Located on 13 acres on Maddox-Simpson Parkway, about a mile from Interstate 40, the bookstore recently was honored with the Lebanon Beautification Award for 2009. The building plan started as a simple sketch that Steve drew on a napkin and passed along to Lebanon architect Mike Manous.
“I knew I wanted a U-shaped building with a courtyard in the middle and glass on both sides, so you could look inside,” said Steve.
“The thing I like most about the design is the sunlight,” Patty said. “Authors who come here love the light because most bookstores are dark and dreary.”
“We never had worked in retail, so we didn’t know what we were doing. I had been in 38 countries and liked the feel of European independent bookstores,” said Steve, who basically went with his gut instincts.
That led to a maverick bookstore with a bent toward the nostalgic. Much of the décor comes right out of a baby-boomer’s bedroom. Board games from yesteryear, modeled after such 1960s and 1970s TV shows and films such as My Favorite Martin, Mystery Date, Voyage to Bottom of the Sea and Planet of the Apes, number in the hundreds as do the colorful children’s metal lunch boxes stacked across the tops of shelves. Vintage Aurora monster models and action figures of all types pose in boxes or stand at attention around the store. Not only fun to examine, they are priced to sell to the boomers who grew up playing with them.
Dozens of film posters and lobby cards offer movie stars in glorious Technicolor beaming down from high on the walls. The posters range from Clint Eastwood westerns, Arnold Schwarzenegger action adventures and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart to titles such as Dune, The Wolf Man and Dragstrip Girl.
A children’s room overflows with hundreds of books that should appeal to the youngest generation as the variety runs from Dr. Seuss to Little Golden Books to pop-up books. Other areas of the store will catch tykes’ eyes with kites, play sets and books on magic, while fans of cinema and the boob tube will discover shelves full of classic films and TV series on DVD.
For serious book connoisseurs, Sherlock‘s maintains a handsome selection of rare books, including a stash of autographed first editions from the likes of authors Stephen King, Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Creighton, Ray Bradbury, Robert McCammon, Clive Cussler and Peter Benchley.
Pass through a couple of doors on the front right and enter a classic movie theater with a 10-foot screen and 20 movie seats that also doubles for video-gaming tournaments and is available for party rentals. And the adjoining Mrs. Hudson’s Café at left, which offers wireless, serves hot pizza, sloppy joes, Reuben sandwiches, chili dogs and burgers and 15 brands of beer, mostly imports and microbrews. An outdoor covered patio serves as the venue for live bands that perform two Friday nights a month.
The rear of the bookstore features a hobby shop loaded with models of airplanes (how about a B-25 Mitchell bomber with an 88-inch wingspan?), boats, cars, spacecraft and dinosaurs as well as remote-control cars (don’t miss the track out back of the store), and this section has proven to be a bona-fide winner.
“Thirty percent our business is hobbies and crafts. We recognized that department stores were closing their crafts and hobby centers, and there was a demand for science-related hobbies,” said Steve.
“I wanted to build a diorama from the original War of the Worlds movie. I went to all the craft and hobby shops within 100 miles, and nobody had anything I needed. I looked online, and I contacted the largest hobby distributor I could find. To be a dealer I had to be a brick-and-mortar business and had to place a $25,000 order. I spent $2,000 on my diorama and picked at random things of interest to me: plastic models, remote-controlled cars, chemistry sets, microscopes. The very first day we opened here, the first thing we sold was a plastic model of the USS Enterprise, not a book.”
Steve was born at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri just as his father was being mustered out of the Army. He grew up in the projects of Shelby Park in Nashville and graduated from Antioch High School in 1975.
“My dad was an automotive and diesel mechanic. He built race car engines on the side,” said Steve. “If he wasn’t working, he was reading. He loved westerns and science fiction almost exclusively. He had all the Louis L’Amour westerns.
“My dad would swap out used books. He always brought me a comic book home. I shared a bedroom with my brother and read under the covers with a flashlight. I’m sure that’s why I am so nearsighted today,” said Steve, who began reading at 4.
As a young teen, Steve got a job at What-A-Burger and began saving for a car. He bought his first at age 14, and when he turned 16 became his mom’s Saturday morning chauffeur, piloting her to garage sales.
“I was already collecting books. I had tons and tons of books. When I went out garage selling with my mom, I would find a Man From Uncle lunch box or board games for 25 cents. The things I collected were related to my book collection or to the TV shows I enjoyed when I was younger. Then it just sort of got out of hand. I collected hundreds of board games and lunch boxes, books. And then eBay came along,” says Steve with a sigh and a grin.
As for his school days, by the tenth grade Antioch High had run out of math classes for his analytical mind, so a teacher, Martha Torrence, created a computer course just for him. Since Hillsboro High School had an IBM computer, she drove him one day a week to the school in Green Hills.
“They put me in a room with a computer. There was no teacher and no other students, but the computer and books were there. So I taught myself to program,” he said. “The first program I wrote was to play blackjack against the computer.”
Whenever the computer broke, Steve called IBM, and they always sent a guy to fix it. The eager beaver watched and learned. Later, as a student at Nashville Tech, Steve bumped into the same computer repairman who told him that IBM needed programmers and the demand was so high they couldn’t wait for college grads.
Inspired by that conversation, Steve took a job at Benson Publishing as a computer programmer at age 19 and soon had his own business, and Harvey’s (a famous department store in downtown Nashville) became his debut client in 1979.
Steve began to write the software for a variety of industries, and eventually his Dynamic Logic Systems had customers across the world and on every continent but Africa. In 2006, he was approached by venture capitalists who were purchasing software companies and he sold his business.
Patty grew up in Melbourne, Fla., where her father worked for a publishing company and sold children’s books when she was young. Her mother, a social worker, ran the Sharing Center for 30 years, and now oversees Space Coast Center, a homeless shelter for mothers and their children in Melbourne.
After high school graduation Patty modeled and did a little acting. “I got hit on by Steve Martin on the set of Parenthood,” she says of the film where she worked as an extra. She also appeared in a brief scene in a brief bathing suit on the TV series Miami Vice.
At 19, she moved to New York City and was working as an office manager at a Manhattan trading business when she met Steve at Caroline’s Comedy Club.
“The joke was on him,” she jokes. “Steve was sitting at the next table and we just got to talking.”
They two hit it off instantly and a long-distance relationship began over phone and e-mail. A few months later he took her on a weeklong date to New Orleans where he wined and dined her. “I loved his brains,” says Patty, but she flipped for his heart.
On Oct. 9, 1998, they married at Lebanon City Hall and were off for a honeymoon in Lake Tahoe but not before Steve made a bunch of phone calls. “I called everybody in her black book and told them she was off the market.”
Since the sale of his software company basically retired him, Steve began to dream of what to do next with his life.
“Until I opened the store, I had never sold or traded any of the books that I had accumulated since I was 6. I kept everything,” he said. By now, there were more than 6,000 books in his house. (Can you smell a packrat?)
“I had so many rare books, so I thought I could run a part-time rare bookstore by appointment only, and I would use the Internet to sell occasionally,” he said.
Since neighbors knew of his quest for books, they asked if he could get them new titles so they wouldn’t have to drive to Nashville for books.
Next Steve and Patty attended a one-week seminar for people who were considering opening a bookstore. “We decided that we could do that,” he said. “I could teach that class now. I could tell those people the real life of a bookstore.”
In September 2006 the Guynns opened the first version of Sherlock’s in an old house on North Greenwood. “We used that store to test our skills and develop another software package specific to the independent bookstore business,” Steve said.
Oct. 15, 2007, they crossed south of the interstate and opened in a bright and airy new structure within a half mile of the Lebanon Outlet Mall.
“A lot of people questioned opening a bookstore in Lebanon,” said Steve. “‘Who reads in Lebanon?’ was a common question I got.”
Today, he beams, “The naysayers have been proved wrong. They said people in the Lebanon area don’t like to read. Our business is up 42% from last year.”
Steve, who enjoys his coffee and Marlboros, continues to appraises rare books for a fee. For him doing book appraisals is a bit like playing Sherlock Holmes, and that was his inspiration for the store name.
“Originally I had in mind a rare bookstore set up like a Victorian gentleman’s club. Sherlock’s name fit in the same time frame, and I was a fan of Sherlock Holmes.”
The bookstore employs 17 including store manager Judy Norton, hobby shop manager Jill Facio and café manager Joe Hansen. The majority of employees are college students who attend such schools as Cumberland University, Middle Tennessee State University, Vol State, Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
The business also is regularly involved in projects that help local charities related to children and animals such as nearby Southside Elementary School, Books From Birth, Habitat for Humanity, New Leash on Life and Kountry K-9.
The store offers a slot car track on Sundays and has the state’s largest remote control off-road track (250 feet in circumference), and it’s almost time to open a remote-control drag strip.
“The drag strip has a real Christmas tree (the lighting system),” said Steve. “It’s as close as you can get to real drag racing. We’ve got 70 people with RCs waiting for it to open. In reality we’re introducing that sport to the state.”
Antique car cruise-ins, one Saturday night a month, have just revved up, and a dog walk park is on the drawing board.
“The difference between a software company and the bookstore is the bookstore business is about 24/7,” said Patty. “We sell customer service, not books. If somebody is looking for something, we work hard at finding it.
“We decided we needed to design this in such a way that you would just want to hang out here --- even if you weren’t a reader. This is Steve’s idea of what a bookstore should be. It’s a family destination with something for everyone.”
Even for those who don’t read books.
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