A History of Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe by Emoke B'Racz, Owner & Founder


 My love of books came naturally; it is an inheritance from my grandmother, who always told us that “our only wealth was what we had in our heads, what we learned, because all else can be taken away.”  As a Hungarian, she knew this well, having lived through two World Wars, a revolution, and communist rule. I still hear her words and they are my guide in everything I do.

Although the business side of bookselling was new to me, the incessant drive to have my own store finally bore fruit in 1982 when the opportunity arose to play hard at what I believed to be the best thing any one could ask for. I didn’t have a million dollars to invest. Still, to me, my bookstore was 2000 square feet of the most magical space in downtown Asheville, and I named her Malaprop’s.

I wanted Malaprop’s to be a place where poetry matters, where women’s words are as important as men’s, where one is surprised by excellence, where good writing has a home, where I could nurture my addiction to literature, and play, enjoy, and entertain people drawn to quality books.

The abandoned state of downtown (you could walk 3 blocks in any direction before you found a door not nailed down) gave me the chance to invest all my money in inventory, since rent was almost free. My biggest inventory was in poetry and Southern literature. I wrapped every purchased book in the European tradition of craft paper and red ribbon. This was one of my earliest creative innovations: “Malaprop’s wrap.” Continuing this European flavor, we fixed up the basement and turned it into a café. By 1983, we were serving fruit salads, bagels and really good coffee. The café was a great success, despite the steep stairs customers had to negotiate to get down and up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 In our fifteenth year of business, Malaprop’s was approached by a local investment group to relocate into their newly purchased building down the same block. Interestingly enough, it was a building that the founding fathers built for their Elks club, a place where women could not enter. How could I refuse that kind of redemptive offer?

The move was a financial challenge, but we received assistance from a group of customers and this enabled us to go ahead with our plans. The move was a great delight and gave us wings to fly in our new location. People lined up on the sidewalk to chain-move the boxes of books. A man driving by stopped and offered us foldable bookfair bookcases, making our move a snap. Our successful move was a direct result of this kind of community support. We are as committed to the community as they are to us.

We are very involved in promoting the health of our community. We actively assist through monetary, book, and coffee donations many area non-profit organizations, NPR and indie radio stations, homeless shelters, and fundraisers. Our community votes us “Best Bookstore in WNC” every year, but I feel our success most when a grandmother brings her granddaughter visiting from a big city to “her bookstore,” or when a college student brings his visiting parents to show them “the fave hangout.” These are the most precious moments in this bookseller’s life.
The majority of our title selection is done by two madwomen who believe in themselves and their choices and passionately promote a good read. Bookbuyers are also booksellers, and rarely would you find them in another city, off the floor, at a loss for a ‘good read’ recommendation. Building book by book, our dream grows at a very manageable rate. No “cancerous uncontrolled growth” is supported or practiced. We are like the organic farmers who keep their eyes on the weather and the soil, and pay attention to them. We reap what we sow. 

 

 

 



 

 Our much-admired newsletter is written, edited, and designed in-house by our staff. Customers can find out more about our store events, staff selections, and community outreach by visiting www.malaprops.com. We sell books and e-books through www.malaprops.com, 24 hours a day! You can also visit us online on facebooktwitter, or tumblr. We send out an email newsletter to 1500 subscribers weekly. Visit our Newsletter Signup page to sign up.

We have evolved into the meeting place in our town. Our café boasts a literary menu, with treats from local bakeries and organic, fair-trade, shade-grown coffee roasted locally. Our café offers free wireless service and eight plug-in stations.  

Thirty years after the birth of Malaprop’s, our goals are the same as the ones we committed to in 1982:

1. To be the best little bookstore in the land.
2. To enjoy what we do while we’re doing it.
3. To be aware and supportive of financial needs and ensure that bookselling is a fine and noble profession.

As a political exile from a communist country, I cannot overemphasize my passion to provide a space where freedom of expression is supported, where important literature—from authors backed by major publishers to those who self-publish—is available to all, where censorship has no place, where respect and service are practiced daily, where women feel safe, where all are welcome, and where books are the stars.