About a year ago, Stan Shelley was contemplating how to redesign his family’s jewelry store on Main Street in Hendersonville, where it’s been since his father Keith set up the business back in 1973 in the old Woolworth building.
“I came across a study that had been done five years back comparing how consumers perceived shopping in a bookstore compared to a jewelry store,” Shelley recalled recently, sipping water in a consulting room off the store’s main floor. “It showed that in a bookstore, consumers liked the fact [that] they could touch and hold the books while they browsed, and that they liked being able to wander around the bookshelves from section to section without anyone following them around.
“We can’t do anything about the touching part in a jewelry store, but I thought it would be interesting to re-arrange our display cases to encourage wandering and browsing.”
A recent visitor to the store did, indeed, wander freely among the cases, freed of the more traditional — and controlling — U-shaped arrangement.
The comparison with a bookstore wasn’t random: Shelley’s main interest for the past ten years and more has been his other business, Shelley and Son Books, which offers rare and first editions to collectors. It has a current inventory, by Shelley’s estimate, of some 10,000 volumes.
“I’m most blessed to be able to play with books,” Shelley says. Among the books he’s handled is a 1606 Geneva Bible once owned by a son of King James I, and a signed first edition of The Hobbit that belonged to Arthur C. Clarke of “2001” fame. Tolkien and fellow Oxfordians like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, who called themselves The Inklings, are a specialty of Shelley’s.
History and theology are Shelley’s favorite personal reading, although he’ll dip into literary fiction and suspense at times. It was Arthur Conan Doyle, in fact, who gave him his real start in the book business, when a significant private collection of first-edition Sherlock Holmes stories came his way.
“We got a phone call from a man in England who says he represented four of the five most important Doyle collectors in the world,” Shelley remembers. “So those sold pretty quickly. I’m a terribly slow reader myself,” he reveals. “I had a first-grade teacher who made me say out loud every word on the page when I was learning to read, and I still do that a lot. But reading slows me down when I have a lot of other things going on.”
There are, indeed, many other things going on for Shelley. Along with the jewelry store and the book business, he is also a well-known auctioneer, familiar to buyers at charity auctions and to downtown crowds as the auctioneer for Hendersonville’s annual sale of Main Street’s “Bearfootin’” sculptural bears — a service Shelley performs at no charge.
The auction business, which came about when a downtown bookseller was retiring and needed to dispose of his inventory, led to the book business. “I’m an idea person,” Shelley says. “I probably have a new business idea every day.”
His diminutive stature belies the energy, at age 63, that has made him a fixture of downtown Hendersonville’s business and philanthropic communities, while his lively gaze and halo of gray hair lend a scholarly air.
After 40 years in business downtown, he’s become somewhat of a paterfamilias of Main Street, remembering when Route 25 ran straight as an arrow through downtown on its way from Asheville to Greenville. “Downtown was half empty back then,” he recalls. “Just a blown out downtown with store windows papered over. The big change came in the ’80s, when the serpentine pattern of Main Street was put in. It changed everything.
“Hendersonville’s always been a tourist town,” he reflects. “But now it’s a tourist town with a healthy business environment.”
Another big change Shelley’s notes is the proliferation of non-profits providing services and amenities that were non-existent 40 years ago, including hospice care, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Hendersonville Symphony. (He’s raised money for many of them through auctions and donations from store sales.)
Now, half a century after arriving in Asheville with his family from his native South Dakota at age 10, working as an industrial engineer in Wisconsin and then stepping into the family jewelry business in Hendersonville, Shelley’s still thinking about what comes next.
But there’s one thing he’s learned along the way.
“The world doesn’t revolve around money,” he says. “There are books and music and lots of other things that are more important. I just wish I’d known that 30 years ago.”
Shelley’s Jewelry and Shelley and Son Books are both located at 429 N. Main St. in Hendersonville. 828-692-3615. Shelleysjewelry.com, shelleyandsonbooks.com