Deal Safrit, founder of Literary Bookpost, retiring

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 9, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — One month after the Literary Bookpost brought in a new partner, the bookstore’s founder has decided to retire.
“There were some issues with the new partners that were antithetical to the way I believe the Literary Bookpost had been and should be operated,” Deal Safrit, 62, said in a statement.
Safrit, who opened the Literary Bookpost in 1998, said he didn’t believe the issues could be resolved. He left last week, and longtime employee Gary Thornburg quit Saturday morning.
Gwen Matthews, former real estate director for Historic Salisbury Foundation, last month became the third partner in the independent bookstore at 110 S. Main St.
Bill Greene, who moved the bookstore across the street from its original location and owns the building, is the majority owner. He has a buyout agreement with Safrit that continues for several more years, and Greene said he still will send Safrit a monthly check.
Safrit “decided to step out of management,” Greene said. “He’s still a valued part of the ownership.”
Originally, Safrit was to remain in the shop full-time, working alongside Matthews and Thornburg. Safrit’s daughter, Daphne Safrit, quit to become a stay-at-home mom, and Matthews’ daughter-in-law, Kimi Matthews, was planning to help out.
Now, Gwen and Kimi Matthews are the only employees in the store. Greene, a banker, typically works in the shop only during special events.
“This was not my intention,” Gwen Matthews said. “I did not set out to be here by myself.”
Matthews said she asked Safrit to stay, and she liked both Safrit and Thornburg.
“They made a choice, and I’m just trying to work out the results of their choice,” she said.
Safrit did not give details about why he left but said he disagreed with some new products Matthews wants to introduce, as well as other pending decisions.
Recently, the bookstore started carrying coffee and fine chocolates. In keeping with the “shop local” mantra of downtown Salisbury, Matthews said she partnered with a small, independent chocolatier in Davidson.
While the Literary Bookpost will continue to explore new products to increase interest and sales, Greene said the focus remains on books.
After investing several years and significant resources in the bookstore, Greene said his goal is to make sure the business succeeds.
“I am very focused on making sure both our customers and the bookstore have many years of sharing the love of books together,” he said on Facebook.
Like other independent bookstores across the nation, the Literary Bookpost cannot survive just selling books, he said.
“We have tried that formula for a number of years, and it did not work,” Greene said. “We made a business decision to keep the business solvent.”
The shop carries 45,000 titles, Greene said, far more than most. They will continue to offer a wide variety of books and will not become like a bookstore chain, only carrying bestsellers, he said.
But the business needs a mix of products, Greene said.
“It takes a lot of different things to keep the doors open,” he said.
Matthews said she respects the Literary Bookpost and what it has stood for over the years. She said she made her intentions known during an interview, and Safrit and Greene agreed to take her on as partner.
“I haven’t done anything I didn’t say I was going to do,” she said.
Faced with a challenging economy, the shop needs to cautiously experiment with other products and services, Matthews said.
“But the main pursuit is to sell books and encourage people to read,” she said.
During the past 14 years, Safrit said he and his wife, Dr. Sheila Brownlow, created one of the best independent bookshops in North Carolina.
“We seriously hope that the Greene-Matthews team will carry this legacy forward and maintain that distinction,” he said. “Sheila and I both wish (them) well in that endeavor.”
While they will miss their friends and customers, Safrit said he and his wife look forward to seeing them in the community.
“Although I am presently saddened and somewhat heartbroken at my rather sudden complete retirement, I will remain active in the literary and reading community in Salisbury,” he said.
For the first time since he opened the Bookpost, Safrit said he will have a garden. He also plans to work on their 98-year-old house and said he’s looking forward to enjoying his first Night Out downtown event from the street, rather than from inside the shop.
The bookstore’s three iconic cats each have a new home. Safrit has Goethe, Thornburg has Oscar, and Daphne Safrit has Dickens.
“They are perfectly happy,” Safrit said.
Greene said while he understands Safrit’s departure will upset some people, he hopes Salisbury will give Gwen and Kimi Matthews a chance. They are learning the business from the ground up and will provide excellent customer service, he said.
“I encourage people to get to know them, their dedication to this city and to the downtown,” he said. “Let them prove themselves.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.