Archived Arts & Entertainment

A Nose for Books Tiny, small-town bookstore attracts big-time authors

By Michael Beadle

Cyrano’s Bookshop in downtown Highlands may be all of 700 square feet, but that hasn’t stopped its new owners, Clair and Arthur Simpson, from setting up book signings for such nationally notable authors as Pat Conroy, Steve Berry, Sharyn McCrumb and Nicholas Sparks.


The Simpsons, who hail from Florida (near Daytona), took over the bookstore in March after its founder, author and historian Randolph Shafner, turned over the reins of this quiet, cozy shop he founded 28 years ago. What the store lacks in Barnes & Noble size, it makes up for in Internet order service and its ability to bring in top-notch authors for Saturday afternoon book-signings.

When the store snagged Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy on his vacation to Highlands this summer, the bestselling author came in to sign books for four hours the day before the signing, another five hours on the day of the signing and then again the day after, according to Arthur. Fans waited in long lines that stretched out the door and down the street. Cyrano’s sold about 1,100 copies of Conroy’s books — little surprise that Conroy signed posters for the Simpsons, calling their store one of the best he’d ever visited. Arthur was most impressed by Conroy’s Southern charm.

“Once you get to know them, they’re down to earth,” Arthur said.

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With its recent notoriety and the growing popularity of Highlands as a key destination for summer and fall tourists, Cyrano’s enjoys a steady stream of regional and national authors. Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier recently passed through for a signing, and best-selling novelist Nicholas Sparks is due next fall.

“Some people you just get incredibly lucky with,” Clair says.

But it doesn’t hurt to keep in touch with publicists at Random House, TimeWarner Books, and Simon & Schuster.

While it’s great to land big-name, bestselling authors, Clair admits, it’s also the goal of the bookstore to promote up-and-coming writers and local book clubs.

The store, which was once an alleyway, is tucked into the downtown shopping district like a quaint used bookstore. Once inside, you’ll find a tidy niche to stop and talk with the owners, peruse a colorful shelf of titles, or wander into the back, imagining yourself in the kind of world where time slows and books turn busy minds into spellbound children.

Cyrano’s carries all genres from the classics to cookbooks, from popular fiction to poetry, and plenty of paperbacks for the vacationer looking for a delicious read. Clair also prides herself in reading three to four books a week, so she’s happy to suggest a bevy of recommended reads. The store ships orders out all over the country as far away as Montana, Arizona and California. A Web site keeps booklovers abreast of the latest book signing schedule, and Clair has been stepping up her trips to regional and national book fairs to keep up with the latest up-and-coming authors and trends in the business.

Like many Highlands residents, the Simpsons were long-time summer visitors. They met in Florida while working as executives at two different banks. Then Arthur’s bank bought Clair’s bank.

The two eventually cashed out their fast-paced city life for more time in the mountains of Western North Carolina. On his trips to Highlands, Arthur was a frequent visitor to Cyrano’s, and one day he jokingly said to owner Rand Shafner, “Just when are you going to sell me this store?”

But the joke turned serious when Shafner took Arthur up on the offer. Meanwhile, the Simpsons kept falling in love with the small-town atmosphere of Highlands.

“Every time we left, we didn’t want to leave,” Arthur said.

The deal closed in March, and though Arthur traded out his spacious bank office for a cramped basement room with pipes and dim lights, he has no regrets.

“We’re happy with the results,” he says.

The store’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call 828.526.5488 or go to the Web site

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