"Independent bookselling is never an easy thing to do, but we love it," says Cheryl Mesler, the owner and operator of Burke's Book Store with her husband, local author Corey Mesler.
The Meslers are the fourth family to embrace the challenge of owning Burke's, and they celebrated last week with a party for the store's 135th anniversary. Among the attendees were Harriette Beeson, who owned the store from 1984 to 2000; Diana Crump, who owned the store from 1978 to 1984; and Patsy Burke, the widow of Bill Burke, the third and final member of the Burke family to operate the store.
The Meslers met in the store when both were staff members in the late '80s and bought it in 2000. Though Burke's has carried a variety of products over the years — toys, newspapers, and literary journals and magazines — the Meslers have expanded what they feel is at the core of the business: buying and selling used books.
"That's always the most interesting part, the fact that our inventory changes constantly," Cheryl Mesler says.
Their devotion to old books has served them well, as has the store's most recent move, from a building on Poplar at Evergreen.
"We have foot traffic again," Cheryl Mesler says of their 2008 move to the heart of Cooper-Young. "I've had people come in and say, 'This smells like a real bookstore!' That's not a feeling you can get from a Kindle."
Though they do stock some new books and magazines, it's the couple's attention to customer service that is a focal point. Burke's carries textbooks for three local private schools, devotes an entire section to Southern writers, and buys all their used books from people in the community.
"We want to be a browsing bookstore," Mesler says. "We want people to be able to come in and kind of slow down a bit."
The Meslers have adapted to a web-based economy, cataloging and selling most of their inventory on their website and other online book communities. But the soul of Burke's remains the books that come in and out of the shop every day.
"I have no fear that the printed word is going to go out," Mesler says. "My husband says it's the perfect little invention. You can't improve on that."
Burke's may have opened in 1875, but its oldest book is Northern Travel: Summer and Winter Pictures, two volumes written by Bayard Taylor and published in 1866.
It also has Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley, published in 1889, and Beacon Lights of History, by John Lord and published in 1886, in stock.