For the Love of Books
Former teacher Dawn Long-Miller buys Pelican Bookstore.
Kindergarten teacher, special education teacher, reading teacher and librarian. Admirable credentials for the owner of a bookstore. Enter Dawn Long-Miller of Shallotte. She bought Pelican Bookstore at Village Center in Sunset Beach on April 1, 2021, and subsequently retired from Brunswick County Schools, where she had been employed for 27 years, all at Union Elementary School in Shallotte.
Long-Miller says she supported bookstores her entire life and was elated when she learned Pelican Bookstore was for sale.
“I never thought I’d own a bookstore,” she says. “What a dream!”
“I thought it was awesome,” says her husband, Jim Miller, who owns Jim’s Car Care on U.S. 17 in Ocean Isle Beach. “I said it was perfect because she had been contemplating retiring from the school system, and this was a great transition.”
Despite the store being nestled for nearly 30 years in Unit 10B at Village Center off Sunset Boulevard, Long-Miller says everyday someone walks in surprised the bookstore exists. She plans to change that. “I’m doing a lot on social media,” she says.
One popular attraction previous owners Anne Harris and Pat Wilson introduced was having New York Times bestselling authors come to Brunswick County. In January Marie Benedict, famous for her historical novels featuring women whose achievements were overlooked, gave a presentation. Brad Taylor of military thriller fame appears February 3, and historical novelist Pam Jenoff appears February 10. Long-Miller posts the calendar of upcoming bestselling authors at www.pelicanbookstore.com. Since the bookstore is 760 square feet with books, Papyrus and Leanin’ Tree greeting cards, jigsaw puzzles and other merchandise filling every available space, presentations are held at Silver Coast Winery in Ocean Isle Beach.
Lucy Ozvat, who attended Benedict’s book signing, has high praise for Pelican Bookstore.
“I’ve been buying books there for eight years,” she says. “I always look at the cards, too. I usually buy my Christmas cards there because they have unique ones, and they’re about the beach.”
When asked at Benedict’s book signing what she likes about Pelican Bookstore, Linda Block, lifts her arms and says, “Look what they’re doing bringing all these popular, outstanding authors here.” She points to the lady sitting beside her. “I took Pam [to the bookstore] today.”
Her best friend, Pam Leffler, drove from Laurel, Maryland, to attend the event. “[Benedict] is one of my favorite authors,” she says. “I’ve read everything she’s written.”
Long-Miller ensures that the bookstore maintains an inventory of the most popular genres, both hard cover and paperback. Best sellers, southern fiction, history, children’s, science fiction, classics and nonfiction are among them. She promotes her used book section by having a trade-in policy with some restrictions. Anyone bringing in used books that are less than 10 years old and in good condition can trade them in for other used books at a reduced price.
Long-Miller, who distributes smiles and laughter in generous amounts, grew up in the Guideway community of Tabor City and loved to read. Her mother was instrumental in having the bookmobile stop at Long’s Tire & Service. Long-Miller earned her teaching credentials at University of South Carolina then a master’s degree in reading from University of North Carolina in Wilmington. She earned another master’s degree in library science from North Carolina Central University.
Harris and Wilson decided it was time to sell the bookstore when family illnesses and deaths then COVID hit. Harris bought the bookstore in 1995. Long-Miller’s email application to buy the store attracted their attention. “She wrote all these good things,” Wilson says. “She was a customer. She was a librarian. She liked to read. She was a native of the area. When we met, I said with tears in my eyes, ‘It’s yours if you want it.’ I could see it was her desire.”
Long-time employee Suzanne Sourwine says the books and the customers have kept her working at Pelican Bookstore for more than 20 years.
“Our customers are more like friends,” she says. “It’s so neat to have so many friends across this large area.” She says every year the summer vacationers tell her they read the books she recommended then say, “What am I supposed to read this summer?”
Terri Gogluicci says she became a customer when she moved to Sunset beach a few years ago. “I like that this is local,” she says and indicates Suzanne. “She’s so friendly, and the store has a wonderful variety of books.”
Jeanine Penny of Calabash brought in a bag of trade-ins. “I love reading and (trade-ins) are the ideal thing.”
“It’s a way to get affordable books,” Sourwine says.
Candace Blackwell became a Pelican Bookstore employee in 2020 but has been a customer for 12 years. “Customers ask what to read, and I tell them what I’ve read,” she says. “They take it and come back and say, ‘You were spot on.’”
“The customers are an iconic part of the community,” Long-Miller says. “Pelican Bookstore is a part of the community.” Although retirees are moving to the area, she says a wide range of ages patronize the bookstore. “People want a book in their hands,” she says. “Young people are buying poetry and the classics. We have a children’s section. This is a special place, and customers trust us.”
She adds that she understands Pelican Bookstore can’t compete with online retailers but quotes what Wilson told her. “We can’t out-price the big retailers, but we can out-service them.”