Lisa Poole, ’86, always wanted to own a bookstore. In July 2013, her dream became reality when she took the helm of Quail Ridge Books & Music, a beloved Raleigh institution known as much for its people as its 70,000 carefully curated titles.
Hand-selected by Quail Ridge founder Nancy Olson to take over the store upon her retirement, Poole said she was “equally thrilled and anxiety-stricken” at the news that she had been chosen over several other potential buyers to shepherd the independent bookstore into a new era.
“I had done retail when I was younger, but nothing like this,” Poole said. “The learning curve has been huge, and I’m still learning. Our team is wonderful, and they have all been very helpful and sweet.”
Born and raised in Raleigh, Poole attended St. Timothy’s School, Hale High School (now St. David’s), and Sanderson High School before attending Meredith.
“At Meredith, I really didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do until I started doing live theatre,” Poole said. “I participated from my sophomore year through my senior year, and that was my love.”
She performed in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke and as the title character in Hello Dolly, among several productions. “It was such a thrill for me and taught me the value of being able to get up in front of people and speak.”
Armed with a degree in American history and a minor in communication, Poole moved to Florida with her husband, Ven Poole, soon after graduation. The couple lived there for five years, during which time Poole earned her teaching certificate and taught sixth grade. When she and her husband decided to start a family, they moved back home to Raleigh.
They have three daughters: Chelsea, 23, who recently graduated from North Carolina State University and now manages social media for Quail Ridge; Craven, 19, a student at Elon University; and Caroline, 15, a student at St. David’s.
As Poole began to approach an empty nest, she started thinking about the next chapter of her life. She had never let go of the self-described “fantasy” of having a bookstore.
“One day my husband put this newspaper article [announcing Quail Ridge was on the market] in front of me, and he said, ‘This could be the one thing you are looking for,’ and we talked about it back and forth,” Poole said. “Then I met with Nancy Olson, and we just hit it off. “
Describing the store as “a family affair,” Poole said that, in addition to Chelsea working there full-time, her husband provides excellent business counsel, daughter Craven also has worked at the store, and Caroline will jump in as a gift-wrapper during the holiday rush.
“The first year has been a challenge, and I still have so much to learn. Even finding where books are located in the store is a challenge for me, and then sometimes they’re moved, and I’m lost all over again,” she said with a laugh. “I really want to master hand-selling. That’s what our folks are so good at doing. They know the books, they know the authors, and they make thoughtful recommendations.”
Her favorite part of the job? The events.
“In the last year, we’ve hosted Jimmy Carter, Pat Conroy, and Sue Monk Kidd, among other great authors,” Poole said. “They were all amazing. I was especially awestruck meeting President Carter. He was so gracious.”
Two of these events on Poole’s “top-three” list took place at Meredith, as part of a longstanding relationship between the store and the College. Meredith has hosted Quail Ridge events for years, including visits in the last decade by Khaled Hosseini, Rosanne Cash, and Frank McCourt. Although simple geography may have sparked the connection between Meredith and Quail Ridge – located just across the street from each other – it has deepened into a fruitful partnership over time.
“The folks at Meredith are really great, and we love working with them,” Poole said. “We hosted Sue Monk Kidd in the Chapel and Pat Conroy in Jones Auditorium. Everyone we’ve worked with at Meredith has been super helpful.”
In April, Meredith hosted young adult literature authors Jenny Hubbard and Jenny Han on campus. Hubbard, a 1987 Meredith graduate, was one of Poole’s classmates. Han attended Meredith for two years before transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill. The authors spent an afternoon speaking with Meredith students, then read from their work and signed books at Quail Ridge that evening.
Associate Professor of English Kelly Roberts, ’91, coordinated the event.
“We worked closely with the Quail Ridge staff to put the event together, and they were on top of everything,” Roberts said. “They’re a well-run and well-respected book store.”
Students in the College’s Colton English Club helped with the event by handing out programs, setting up chairs, and introducing the authors.
“I love the fact that our students get hands-on experiences like that,” Roberts said. “Many of them are aspiring writers, and events like this one show them what’s possible. We really do have a beautiful partnership with Quail Ridge.”
In addition to hosting numerous authors on campus, Quail Ridge also supports Meredith lectures by managing book sales at those events. And each spring, the store is part of a long-standing tradition in the Meredith English Department.
“It has become a wonderful ritual for English faculty members to go to Quail Ridge to purchase a special book for each graduating senior,” said Professor of English Robin Colby, ’81. “We’re a very close-knit department, and we typically graduate about 12 majors each year. At the spring Senior Tea, which is a grand occasion with all kinds of traditions unto itself, we give the books to the students as hand-selected mementos of their time at Meredith. Years later, they will still talk about the tea, and the book exchange is part of something that is very meaningful to them.”
“I love Quail Ridge, and I’ve been going there for years,” Colby said. “They have such a wonderfully chosen collection, and the people there are so eager and willing to help you. I encourage my students to go to Quail Ridge to start the life-long habit of going into independent book stores.”
Despite the marketplace dominance of online booksellers and big box stores, independent shops like Quail Ridge continue to thrive, Poole said.
“I think there are still a lot of people, young and old, who just want to hold a book in their hands,” she said. “And there’s something about the independent bookstore community. We all rally around each other, at the local and national levels.”
Quail Ridge is definitely not a one-stop shop, Poole said, describing it as a “wonderful browsing store.” She intends to preserve the qualities that set Quail Ridge apart from the others.
With one year under her belt at Quail Ridge, Poole looks toward the future with confidence and good humor.
“This is completely new territory for me, and I love it. Nancy [Olson] is an icon, and I’m thankful that she trusts me with this store. I’m also thankful for this wonderful team who didn’t leave me,” she said with a little laugh. “Above all, I’m really thankful for the customers who have kept on coming despite the fact that this new person came in and took over. This is a very special place.”
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Meredith Magazine.