Housed inside a building on East Main Street—one they say has hosted visitors like President Andrew Jackson and folk hero Davy Crockett—are more than 20,000 books piled into a 19th century space. Some are brand-new, best-selling romances and legal thrillers. Others are more modern limited editions, like the autographed copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
And still there is another breed of books that Landmark Booksellers prides itself on, building its stock year by year: a vast collection of more than 2,500 rare, signed first works.
“We carry new, old and rare books, but we specialize in regional literature and history,” says Joel Tomlin, who co-owns the shop with wife, Carol. “And we’ve handled the sale of some of the most important books in this area—including a book that at the time of the Civil War was the definitive reference on battlefield surgery.”
He launches into the background of the aforementioned book, running through its provenance and the story of its arrival in Franklin.
“It was inscribed by the Surgeon Maylert [USA] and given to Surgeon Daniel Cliffe, [CSA] after the Battle of Mill Springs in Kentucky. Cliffe—one of the original Tennessee volunteers—had a practice located in the old McPhail building just down the street,” Joel says. “You see, each of these old books is a story unto itself because of who’s owned it, handled it and where it’s been. Each carries its own history.”
And though Joel will lovingly tell you about each of Landmark’s rare books, he’s also quick to point out that they also cater to local authors and newly released works. The store often holds book signings for local writers like Rick Warwick, Lisa Patton, Robert Hicks and the late William Gay, who passed away this year after becoming known as one of the South’s most acclaimed modern authors.
“Do you see those 20 pictures hanging on the wall?” Joel asks, pointing to a row of black-and-white photographs. “All Southern authors, half of them Tennesseans. We have a standing challenge that if you can name all of them, you get a free book.”
The Tomlins haven’t always been in the business of selling books. Though Carol has always been a “voracious reader” and Joel fell in love with rare books at an early age, the couple never thought they’d actually have the chance to own their own shop. But the opportunity fell into their laps when Dad’s Old Book Store closed down in Green Hills, and opened the door for the pair to inherit its 50,000-plus collection.
“We’ve always been inspired by places like Square Books in Oxford [Miss.] on our travels,” Joel says. “It was one of those things that sits
in the back of your mind, and you think ‘wouldn’t it be cool?’”
Built in 1826, Landmark’s home conjures up memories of yester-year with whitewashed columns and a second-story balcony. The history of the building partners well with the shop’s vibe: there’s a living room-like atmosphere complete with plush leather couches that invites booklovers to sit down and stay a while.
With brick-and-mortar bookstores becoming more and more of a rarity, Joel says he believes it will be the nostalgic experience of a physical bookstore that will keep the independent booksellers from meeting the same fate as the likes of Borders, Davis-Kidd and so many others.
“Like Carol always says, there is something very special about being in a bookstore: about holding a book, the smell, the feel, the opportunity to purchase and own it. In this new digital age, an experience that may soon be ‘gone with the wind.’”
Landmark Booksellers is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn about the store, visit www.landmarkbooksellers.com.