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The Book House, a Rock Hill institution, is forced to relocate
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The Book House, a Rock Hill institution, is forced to relocate

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ROCK HILL • Independent bookstore owner Michelle Barron has managed to stave off the big box retailers while meeting Amazon.com on its own turf by launching an Internet distribution center.

Barron, however, finally met her match in the expert who showed up recently to assess the best way to demolish the historic residence that the Book House has inhabited since 1980 at 9719 Manchester Road.

“This was a haven, a magical place,” said Barron, already referring to the shop in the past tense.

If all goes according to plan, the Book House, two other businesses and a handful of houses tucked into 1.45 acres behind a Manchester Road title company will disappear, razed to make way for a storage facility.

Bill Bowman, representing the company that hopes to build a 25,000-square-foot EZ Storage franchise on the site, pledges to help Barron find a new home for the 200,000 books crammed floor to ceiling and into every conceivable cranny of the 1863 Victorian Gothic house.

“We don’t want her on the street,” he said. “We want to work with her.”

Bowman said Great Northern Developments is considering several options, including preserving the character of the quirky bookstore by physically moving the 150-year-old home to another location.

“It’s great, I love the place,” he said. “I love the idea of sitting in a house and reading. But sometimes you can move an old house and sometimes you can’t.”

Barron is not averse to uprooting the Victorian. The shop owner’s contention that the city has not been supportive notwithstanding, Rock Hill is also interested in saving the Book House and possibly keeping it within the municipal limits.

“Michelle has been a tremendous asset to the community,” said City Administrator George Liyeos, adding, “change is difficult for anyone. But when you have 200,000 books it’s even more difficult.”

Barron was in the middle of a divorce when she assumed proprietorship from the original owner in 1986. In those first months she and her children bunked in sleeping bags spread on the second floor.

Eventually, the temporary living quarters gave way to books. By the tens of thousands. In addition to the 200,000 books on Manchester, Barron has 80,000 volumes stashed in storage and another 80,000 in the business’s online warehouse.

Barron said she’d hoped to buy the house from the estate of Elizabeth Stahl, the original owner of the Book House. Bowman said that selling the Victorian separate from the other buildings was never an option for the heirs.

“Unfortunately, the current location of the bookstore sits right in the middle of the property,” Bowman said. Rex Stahl, Barron’s landlord, could not be reached for comment.

Great Northern Developments and Nolan Real Estate Interests, the Texas-based parent company of the EZ Storage outlets, hope to submit preliminary plans for the 400 to 500 units with the Rock Hill planning department this month.

The matter is expected to reach the Planning and Zoning Commission in June.

Bowman said EZ Storage integrates its design schemes with surrounding neighborhoods. The company will also build a landscaped buffer between the storage units and nearby homes.

Bowman expects the application process will stretch into next year, a time frame that will allow Barron to remain on Manchester Road through the peak holiday book sales season.

“We want to make sure if at all possible that somebody already in business stays in business,” he said.

Barron is aware some view the Book House as a haphazard collection of tomes. But to her it’s a book castle.

“It’s my heart and soul,” she said.

Post-Dispatch book editor Jane Henderson contributed to this report.

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Steve Giegerich is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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