FUQUAY-VARINA — It should have been a bookseller’s dream: Books were going out the door by the box load.
But for Muirae Kenney, owner of Lazy Lion Books & More, it was a swan song.
The store closed Saturday after 12 years in Fuquay-Varina – a casualty of the rise of electronic books.
“The market has changed, the economy has changed, the customer base has changed,” said Kenney, 43. “I’ve kept my older and younger readers. But my customers who are in their 30s, 40s and 50s have moved to e-books.”
For more than a year, Kenney has struggled to keep the business afloat. She finally decided to close when she realized she couldn’t pay her bills.
“If it happens to the big guys like Borders, it’s going to happen to the little guys,” she said.
Kenney predicts small used-book stores will make a comeback in a few years if more big-chain stores go out of business. But she said she couldn’t hang on that long.
On a national level, things aren’t as bleak. Starting in 2009, independent bookstores started seeing some growth after years of decline, according to the American Booksellers Association.
The number of independent book companies went from 1,401 in 2009 to 1,632 in 2013. Sales grew by about 8 percent between 2011 and 2012.
Kenney said the decision to close was heartbreaking. She found a passion, she said, for helping people discover authors and books.
Days before she closed the store for the last time, Kenney was still hard at work. As she rang up cookbooks, she heard customer Marjorie Hopwood utter words that get her bookseller juices pumping: “I’m trying to get to all the southern authors. I’ve read all but one of Mary Kay Andrews.”
“Have you read Margaret Maron?” Kenney asked.
She went on to talk about the Greensboro native’s mystery series featuring the fictional character Judge Deborah Knott, the daughter of an infamous North Carolina bootlegger.
Kenney recommended Hopwood start with the novel “Bootlegger’s Daughter.”
“I live in Garner and I belong to a mystery book club there and I’ve never heard of her,” Hopwood said. “Will you write that down for me?”
Soon after, Hopwood left the store with a box full of books and a scrap of paper with the author’s name.
“I love little independent shops,” Hopwood said. “They are just so well-informed; you just don’t find that online.”
Hopwood discovered Lazy Lion on Wednesday, four days before it closed.
“I wish I would have known this place was here before,” she said.
Helping customers is one of the best parts of the job, Kenney said.
“I just love making people happy and talking to people about books,” she said. “I got to ask people, what was the last book you liked? What was it about it that you liked? And from there I can talk to them about other things the author wrote and say, ‘Here’s what you might like.’ I’ve gotten really good at that over the years.”
Kenney, who is married and has children, said she’s not sure what her next career will be.
She burst into tears as she talked about what she will miss about the job.
Over the years, Lazy Lion has become more than a book store, at its first location on South Main Street and then on East Broad Street. It hosts monthly open-mic nights, knitting groups and book clubs.
“I’ll miss being part of the community,” Kenney said. “We’ve become a community center.”