5 Star Story: Burke’s Book Store

Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 10:35 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - This 5 Star Story, featuring the people places and things that make us proud to call the Mid-South home, is located in the heart of the vibrant Cooper-Young neighborhood.

Burke’s Book Store is one of the oldest independent bookstores in the country and is rapidly approaching 150 years in business. Located on Cooper Street, Burke’s has an inventory of books as eclectic as the Midtown neighborhood where it now sits.

“What I like to call Burke’s is a browsers’ paradise,” co-owner Corey Mesler said.

A paradise Corey and his wife Cheryl Mesler have been in love with for dozens of years.

“But it’s really important to me to have a store where people can come into, feel welcome and be surprised by something that they didn’t know that they wanted,” he explained.

On the shelves you’ll find about 14,000 new and used books, rare books, first editions and signed copies, “the best of the old, the latest of the new, and hard to find collectibles.”

“And since Burke’s is part of the history and it’s important for us to keep a big Memphis history section, that’s one of our draws,” added Mesler.

There are also more typewriters in the shop than they can possibly display.

“And people became fascinated with them. I didn’t know there was that much interest in typewriters. Of course it fits; this is how books are written. And the more people became fascinated with us they would bring us typewriters,” he explained.

Mesler, the author of several novels of his own, has also brought some of the world’s most famous authors into the shop. “John Grisham’s a dear friend, still a dear friend of the store. Literally, over a hundred authors I’m sure have been through here,” he said.

And it’s not just famous authors who’ve made Burke’s a destination--take screenwriter Joel Cohen and his wife and actress Frances McDormand, who showed at Burke’s Books seemingly out of the blue. Mesler called the couple’s visit one of the best days of his 40-year book-selling career.

“They said they came to Memphis...this is what they told us: They came to Memphis for barbecue, antique stores and Burke’s. Now they may have just been flattering us, but it sure felt good. They said they’d been in the store 20-something years ago and they remembered it,” he described.

Burke's Book Store
Burke's Book Store(Action News 5)

The story of Burke’s Book Store started more than a century ago. According to Mesler, “It started 1875 on Main Street in the Burke’s family, famous for selling textbooks to all the Catholic Schools in town.”

Eventually, the Burke family moved the business to the 600 block of Poplar Avenue.

“In the 60s, urban renewal came through. They wanted to raise a lot of those buildings so Burkes had to find a new home and was still in the Burke’s family, at that point in the third generation. They went from father to son to son,” he explained.

In 1978, the bookstore was bought by Diana Crump, then Beeson, who moved the business to its third location in 1988 at 1719 Poplar Avenue. Corey Mesler began working for Beeson that year as well.

“And of course, loved it. I’ve been in the book business since I was 18,” Mesler professed.

That’s also when Burkes began selling used books, as well.

“And then in 2000, we were able to buy the store because Harriet was ready to retire,” Mesler noted.

In 2007, the Meslers moved the business to it’s fourth and (hopefully) final location in Cooper-Young, becoming their own family business.

“Cheryl and I (are) fixin’ to have our 31st wedding anniversary. We met in the store, got married at the Playhouse next door, had the reception in the store, so we are wed to the store, literally. And then our daughter Chloe came onboard 5 years ago.”

When asked why Burke’s has stayed in business so long, Mesler’s simple answer is civic pride.

“Memphians love Memphis. I mean true Memphians really love the city. So, we’re part of the history and we honor the history. We’re proud to be in Memphis. We’re proud to be Memphians and I guess people respond to that,” he explained. “And thank you to Memphis for supporting us for almost 150 years for thinking we’re worth supporting and worth keeping around.”

The Meslers also say just about every one of the books in Burke’s Book Store is also available online. And if they don’t have it in the store, they say they can special order it for you at no extra charge and typically within 2 to 3 days. For more information about Burke’s Book Store, click here.

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