McIntyre’s Books General Manager Keebe Fitch talks the power of reading and how her beloved bookstore adapted through the pandemic
By Morgan Cartier Weston|Photo by John Michael Simpson
Few places are as beloved as an independent bookstore, and McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village is no exception. The shop was designed to welcome, delight and inspire and has been a passion project for general manager Keebe Fitch for more than 30 years.
“The simple act of reading a book can move someone to tears, help them find peace, make them laugh themselves silly, help them obtain knowledge or get so incredibly angry. To be able to talk with people and share those experiences is a beautiful thing,” Keebe says.
So when Keebe’s father – Fearrington Village founder R.B. Fitch – wanted to open a bookstore in the 1980s, Keebe asked Erica Eisdorfer at the Bull’s Head Bookshop on UNC’s campus for a job. She credits the author’s engaging and thorough tutelage with showing her what it takes to run a bookshop. Keebe looked to two other female mentors for guidance on inventory and cultivating a memorable experience.
“We opened McIntyre’s Books in April 1989 with the help of Jean Harper, who worked at Charles Scribner’s Sons in editorial, and Jane Bradford, who was a head librarian in Ohio,” she says. “It was an incredible time to be opening a bookstore.”
In the decades since, the shop has grown into an informal community center, playing host to everything from writing programs and storytimes to bringing in high-profile visitors including former President Jimmy Carter, David Sedaris, Carla Hall, Diane Rehm and Elizabeth Strout for special events.
“There is nothing like being around people when they get to meet their heroes,” Keebe says, and she considers herself lucky to have been surrounded by so many of her own. The store itself is named for Keebe’s grandmother, Katherine McIntyre Fitch, and she looks to other women in her life as some of her greatest inspirations.
“My mom, Jenny Fitch, was an incredible role model as she found her passion and made her life’s work evolve around the things she loved,” Keebe says. “I had an amazing English teacher in high school, Lois Vick, who created an inexhaustible hunger for literature.”
More recently, Keebe has relied on members of her team to stoke success and describes connecting with others as a highlight of their work. “Sarah Carr, former children’s bookseller, laid the track for McIntyre’s work with Chatham County Schools and single-handedly created the Whirlikids Book Fest; Johanna Albrecht, current children’s bookseller, is just a sharp cookie and continues to hone my tech skills, and Juliana Hubbard brings grace and a quick mind to our marketing and tech,” Keebe says.
That expertise has been essential as the store has adapted to challenges over the years. “The biggest change I have been witness to in the book industry is how much computers have taken over,” Keebe says. “Algorithms, social media, bulk email, Zoom events. None of that was a twinkle in anyone’s eye when we opened, and it will be amazing to see where the future continues to lead us.”
New ideas have been more necessary than ever over the past two years. “Our storytime program originally grew out of a wonderful group of local parents,” Sarah says. “We started running the program ourselves, and it became so popular that we had to add a second weekly time slot.” In March 2020, McIntyre’s decided to take the program virtual using Instagram Live. “We kept that up for over a year and developed some wonderful relationships with customers who live near and far,” Johanna says. “It was a special lifeline and important source of entertainment for kids and parents.”
And while customers were unable to come into the store, the team pivoted again to refresh the website.
“McIntyre’s is very much a destination store, where we love to see people walk in the door and talk with them about books and help them find their next read. There are challenges in conveying that online,” Keebe explains. The updated site enables the team to make custom book lists for customers to browse online.
Keebe hopes to resume in-person storytimes outside this spring, and the team even held the first-ever children’s book fair in February. Being part of those kinds of memories is at the heart of their work. “Books are amazing objects,” Keebe says. “You never know how reading one will impact your life.
“People have been going through so much, and being kind is a choice we can, and should, all make. We all rise together.”