I had long lamented the dearth of a bookstore on Main Street in downtown Greenville, but then last year finally saw the used bookstore open across from Falls Park in the West End. However there was still something missing... Then along with summer came the great news – the grand opening of M. Judson Books in the historic Greenville County Courthouse in the very heart of the city!
The neoclassical Beaux Arts building was built in 1918, serving as county courthouse until 1950 when it was exchanged for family court. It served this role until 1991, and not long after was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1994). The courthouse was the site of the 1947 Willie Earle trial; while awaiting trial for killing a white taxi driver, Earle was kidnapped and murdered by 31 white men. The entire lynch mob was arrested and tried for murder & conspiracy, but eventually acquitted.
The modern history of the building is comparatively benign, as in more recent years it has been home to the River Falls Spa and two companies that had a hand in its 2003 renovation, Hughes Development Corporation and Design Strategies Architecture. What makes the opening of M. Judson’s in this space such a positive development is as far as downtown goes, Main Street has been without a new-book vendor for decades as the Greenville landmark Open Book moved out to Pleasantburg in 1993. Other than the recently-opened Joe's Place, the last bookstore was the used-book dealer Bentley’s, which closed in 2006.
M. Judson booksellers & storytellers quietly opened this summer after two years of work, slowly gaining momentum and attention for their carefully curated selection. While they do offer bestsellers, the store’s focus is on Southern lit, regional authors, culinary literature and books for children and young adults. In other words, it’s a veritable pinterest board of inspiration and eye candy!
When entering from Main Street visitors pass through the foyer with its sweeping double staircase before entering the bookstore between long counters adorned with books. To the right is the café, which offers small plate-style offerings, coffee and a selection of beer and wine. On sunny days the outdoors tables are usually occupied: individuals engrossed in a book, friends conversing over a coffee, families pausing during their walk.
Saturdays at 10:30 is the weekly children’s event Story Time on the Steps, and the bookstore’s calendar is otherwise full of author readings, a pop-up supper series and book signings. Also available are various book club packages that include books, drinks and other perks – see website for details.
M. Judson is frequently a stop when showing our visitors around downtown - for some chess pie, coffee and a souvenir. It is also a go-to for original, unique presents, for children and adults alike – especially important with the holiday season around the corner. While I’m happy to see a non-chain business move into this key downtown location, it’s even better to see such an innovative, inspirational and cleverly curated bookstore become a member of the Greenville community. Let's support our small, locally-owned businesses this holiday season - why not, when they're as fantastic as M. Judson?