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December 27, 2003

Market Square bookstore beckons you to browse

From: Knoxville News Sentinel, TN - Dec 27, 2003


A quaint bookstore that opened just a month ago has already carved a niche for itself in the heart of Market Square.

Market Square Booksellers, which opened in conjunction with the unveiling of the newly renovated Market Square and Krutch Park, already has a following of the downtown workforce. This is the area's first bookstore in a long time.

"We've made more than we had in our business plan," said Dore Dumas, who established the shop with her husband, Bob. She is a librarian at Farragut Middle School.

The shop, at 14 Market Square next to Tomato Head, features new and used books, afghans, note cards, Celtic jewelry from Cornwall, England, Italian journals and other items from the British Isles. It also boasts of peculiar furniture from benches "with the original label and gum" from the University of Tennessee's Stokely Athletics Center to a church pew from Louisville, Ky. The wood floors come from an old school gym in Chattanooga.

Adding to the uniqueness of the store is its kilt-wearing proprietor, Bob Dumas.

"I told my wife that if we opened a store downtown, I would wear a kilt everyday," he said.

He's kept his word.

The couple are members of the Scottish Society of Knoxville, by the way.

Dumas, a Mobile, Ala. native, and Dore, moved to Knoxville 12 years ago. After 35 years of corporate retail experience, he decided to try his hand at the book business, with the encouragement of his wife.

Market Square Booksellers was born out of the desire to create a peaceful environment for people.

"When was the last time you heard people raise their voices in a bookstore?" he said. "Bookstores invite you to be calm."

Aside from being a cozy place for hearing people, it caters to the needs of the deaf community. There is a section on the shelves dedicated to books by deaf authors, American Sign Language dictionaries and books teaching ASL.

The store also has a telecommunications device, much like a telephone, for the deaf.

"We have created a place where deaf people can come and be comfortable," Dumas said.

One of two part-timers there is Rebecca Sloan, who is deaf. She works as a cashier and bookkeeper. She also makes some of the jewelry the store sells.

Many customers are astonished when they come into the store and encounter her.

"They are surprised at me," she signed. "They usually don't expect this kind of environment."

There's plenty of paper around so she can write notes to the customers and they can also tell her what they want.

In addition, "I watch their expression to see how to help them," Sloan said.

But she has enjoyed working there, she said, and "it's been a good experience."

Joanne Pennoyer, a literature teacher at the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Island Home, said last week that the store would provide an opportunity for the deaf to mingle with the hearing community.

"Our campus is so secluded but to have something this public for the deaf is so fanstastic," she said as she completed her Christmas shopping in the store.

The owners also took great care to feature the works of regional artists.

The works of another employee, Jason Ricker, are displayed in the form of photographs. Also, paintings from a Tennessee School of the Deaf teacher grace another portion of the store's burgundy walls.

Unlike some of the bookstores in the downtown area that have folded, Dumas has great hopes for Market Square Booksellers.

"We plan to be here for a long time," he said.

Dore Dumas is the brains behind the store's unique flair. She also makes mosaic art that can be purchased at the shop. She wanted the business to capture the "small town feeling" of which Market Square is reminiscent, she said.

Jan Evridge, a downtown worker, said last week that she was excited that stores, like Market Square Booksellers, have now come to Market Square.

"It's been a crying shame to have this area so empty," Evridge, a Home Federal Bank employee, said.

She had just purchased some Christmas gifts from the bookstore.

"It's great. I couldn't do this last year," she said.

Bob Dumas hopes the uniqueness of his shop is what keeps its doors open.

"That's what Market Square hopes to be: quirky, unusual, nonmainstream businesses," Dumas said. "This is a very accurate reflection of our shop's personality."

The store is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Free coffee is served every day from 9 a.m.-11 a.m.

Lola Alapo may be reached at 865-342-6376.

Copyright 2003, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.