During a recent visit to The Village Book Exchange, I found a homey little store tucked in at the corner of El Camino Real and Avenida Serra. As you enter, a friendly sales person immediately greets you, and you may see the resident guard cat, “Harry,” asleep on the shelf behind the cash register. Wandering through the tall pine shelves, lined with a myriad of books stacked neatly by subject and author, you are free to sit in one of the many nooks and crannies while looking over your selections. Corners and alcoves have granny rockers or wing-backed chairs for comfortable seating; while sunshine streams in the many windows, shedding ample light for reading at will.
“Find something you love to do and you will never work a day in your life.”
This quote personifies Karen Palmer, the owner of the Village Book Exchange for the last six years. A warm and affable lady, she had been a customer of the bookstore at its old location on Avenida Del Mar for 15 years before deciding to buy the business. By sheer happenstance she overheard a conversation between the former owner, Mary Schroeder, and a customer about selling the business. What evolved from listening to that conversation was Karen becoming the owner of a 70,000 plus volume bookstore that encouraged its patrons to buy, sell, or trade books seven days a week.
“A light bulb went off in my head it was an epiphany,” tells Palmer, who had never thought about owning a bookstore - a restaurant maybe, as she likes to cook and is told she is good at it.
After owning and operating the bookstore on Avenida Del Mar for two years - where walk-by traffic from tourists was greater - the rent doubled overnight and Karen was forced to relocate. But with a loyal local following she has high hopes of increasing the neighborhood business by 25% in coming years.
“It was never about wealth,” Palmer shared.
Karen and her staff love to emphasize “customer service,” and thoroughly enjoy helping people find that special book at a discount price. As a friendly, down to earth, longtime San Clemente resident, Karen is involved with supplying books to the” Survivors Book Club” at the local Junior high school. (This is a program in which the students read three books every six weeks, break into discussion groups at school, and discuss the books with peers and teachers.)
Palmer looks upon having a bookstore in a small village atmosphere as a “stewardship,” and is part of a dying breed of small town merchants who give customers the personal service, so lacking in a sterile big mall environment. The type of person who loses track of time at her store and is engrossed in “the enjoyment of what she is doing.” A gutsy lady who’s in San Clemente to stay… having signed a 20-year lease at her current location.
Karen Palmer and her dedicated staff, Judy Lane and Nancy Shepard, take you somewhere back in time to enjoy a piece of Americana in small-town life where you can browse book-lined shelves, trade a paperbacks, buy a hardcover book
and have discussions with friendly local people. b
Visit The Village Book Exchange at 99 Ave. Serra, SC. 492-1114. Hours:
Monday–Thursday: 9:30am - 5:30pm,
Friday/Saturday: 9:30am - 7pm,
Sunday: 10am - 4pm.