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After bookstore closing, charitable group will find new ways to raise money

Book Exchange manager Ginny Bell has been working at the bookstore for 16 years. Book Exchange manager Ginny Bell has been working at the bookstore for 16 years.

FLAT ROCK — In a new effort to showcase history, Historic Flat Rock wants to create a museum on the ground floor of the old post office. But Ladies Aid Society members are upset that the historical society is evicting their charity-based bookstore to do it.

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The board of Historic Flat Rock voted on Saturday to convert the ground floor of the old Post Office into a museum and cultural center. It gave the Book Exchange to the end of the year to find new quarters.

Although Ladies Aid Society members were disappointed, they agreed on Monday to regroup and continue their core mission to raise money for charity.

“We were raising money for 100 years before we got the Book Exchange,” Anne Coletta, president of the Society, said after the organization’s board and several past presidents met on Monday. “Even though the Book Exchange will close we will continue to raise money for charities. We did discuss whether to look for another space but at this point we learned that there’s not a viable option out there.”

Historic Flat Rock “has talked for some years about the fact that we really don’t have any presence on the street,” HFR president Bill Humleker said. “People are forever going to the Village Hall and asking where we are.”

Conversations about use of the space began last winter when the Ladies Aid Society came to the Board of Historic Flat Rock and requested a rent reduction, Humleker said. That started a discussion on the executive committee about how best to use the space.
“We have tremendous respect for the Ladies Aid Society and what they do and what they’ve done,” he said. “However, we as an organization also have a mission statement and a mission that we feel responsible for and to fulfill. Part of our mission statement says that the HFR is to discover and collect materials of historical, artistic or literary value, provide for preservation for such material, and for its accessibility as far as may be feasible for all who wish to examine it and to operate a cultural center.”
Humleker said the board felt that the request by the Ladies Aid Society for a rent reduction presented three options. One was to give the rent reduction, the second was to pursue a market rental for the space, which would bring in a great deal more money for HFR, and the third was to utilize the space as a cultural center and museum. That’s the one Executive Committee chose.
“We don’t have a lease with them, haven’t for several years, it’s on a month to month basis,” he said. “The cold hard fact is that they’re paying us less than one half of the going rate for the commercial space.”
“We need to put Historic Flat Rock first and we need to serve our mission the best way we know how,” he added. “We want to give ourselves a better public image that people will be able to tie to and understand better.”

'Poorly handled'

Supporters of the Book Exchange expressed concern about HFR’s decision.

“I would remind HFR that community is much more than old buildings and artifacts. It is people and the needs of those people,” Jim Chesnut said in a letter he wrote about the decision. “It will most likely be the end because HFR in the past has been good to the Book Exchange by giving them reduced rent. This gesture was admirable and showed good community spirit. That spirit is apparently dead, as will be the Book Exchange because they cannot afford to pay going rental rates and still be able to assist the community.”

Ginny Bell, the current manager of the Book Exchange, has been working in the store for 16 years.
“I joined the choir at St. John’s and Ivy Cowell who was then manager was English and said ‘Do you enjoy reading, love?’ and I said ‘Oh I read all the time,’ so she said ‘Perhaps you’d like to help us out at the book exchange’ and I was hooked,” Bell said. When Ms. Cowell turned 80, she handed down her manager position to Bell, who comes in every Wednesday morning to price, sort and stock the donated books.
“I’ve been the manager for eight years and of course I love the place dearly,” she said. “I think it’s been a huge help to the community because all of us are volunteers and all of our money goes to charity.”

Bell said the decision that could put her beloved Book Exchange out of business came as a surprise.

“I was so hurt by the way it was handled because nobody contacted me," she said. "I think it was handled very poorly.”
The Ladies Aid Society gave $16,000 last year to local charities, including the Backpack Program of St. John in the Wilderness, Blue Ridge Literacy Council, Boys & Girls Club of Hendersonville, Children & Family Resource Center, Community Partnership for Pets, Four Seasons Compassion for Life, Henderson County Young Leaders Program, Hendersonville Rescue Mission, Interfaith Assistance Ministry, Johnson Farms, Mainstay (now Safelight), Meals on Wheels and the Free Clinics.

Historic Flat Rock, which has offices upstairs, wants to use the ground floor of the 172-year-old building to display clothing, furniture, journals, photographs and historic artifacts.
“We would love to have a space to actually display some of what we have and let the public see these things,” Humleker said. “They were never meant to be shoved away in closets and hidden upstairs. We have an opportunity to do that.”
The museum would also include a “Who, what, where, when and why of Flat Rock,” which would borrow materials from local historians, records and materials from local residents, including clothing, maps, tools, and railroad information.

Peter Stradley built two-story front-gable frame building in about 1844. It housed the Flat Rock post office until 1922 — except for the years 1887 to 1889 when postmaster John P. Patton moved the post office to his store a short way up Greenville Highway, according to a village history Historic Flat Rock commissioned.

Here is a statement Historic Flat Rock issued on the subject:

"Historic Flat Rock is in the unenviable position of having to ask the Ladies Aid Society to find a new location for their shop, the Book Exchange. HFR was formed in 1968. After partnering with St. John in the Wilderness to restore the Old Parsonage, they opened their first office in the front room of the house. Quickly they ran out of space, and began looking for a larger home for their files, books and growing archives. They purchased the Old Post Office building, and after making extensive renovations, moved into the upstairs space. Through the generosity of HFR board members, the lower street level floor, with parking, was offered to the Ladies Aid Society for a nominal fee. Throughout the years, the ladies of HFR have worked at the Book Exchange and we have continued to have a warm relationship. Now, once again, we have run out of space. HFR certainly appreciates the contributions the organization has made to those in need in Henderson County, but we desperately need to regain the full use of our building. It is with heavy hearts that we must ask them to vacate the lower floor, but for us to continue our work in preservation and to accomplish our mission, we must expand."

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The Book Exchange is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.