Shakespeare & Company

Highlands, NC

Shakespeare & Company somehow successfully translates a cherished Parisian experience into a quiet mountain setting.

In Paris, France, just across the Seine River from the famous and medieval Notre-Dame, is the Shakespeare & Company bookstore. It opened in 1951 and quickly became a meeting place for anglophone (that means English-speaking) writers and authors, and it is housed in a 17th century building that was originally a monastery. It was not uncommon for people to temporarily live in the bookstore. One of those people was Katherine Willoughby, when she resided in Paris in the 1960s and ‘70s. 

In the spirit of that experience, but on much smaller scale, Willoughby decided to open a Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Highlands in 1999. It is located in a charming, gabled, picture-window building just off Main Street. “I started the store with my own collection. The books were purchased during the many years of social work when I dreamed of opening a book shop in Highlands. I used the Shakespeare and Company model, which means little use of electronics, and sales have been in cash or check,” explained Willoughby. “The shop has always been seasonal and a good proportion of sales are by tourists and destination customers that return to the shop every year.”

Stuart Ferguson, who worked at New York City’s Rizzoli bookstore, famous for its art books, is now co-owner with Willoughby. “And we don’t want to forget the wonderful Rosemary Fleming, our other colleague at the store,” said Ferguson. “She and I worked together at Cyrano’s Bookshop [in Highlands] for many years. Rosemary’s great passion is books about natural history, plants animals, etc.; she’s also great with the children’s section — as is Katherine. My latest addiction is Golden Age mysteries, 1920s to 1960s, whether British or American, and I’m trying to get more used copies for the store.”

The offerings at Shakespeare & Company, in fact, are just as eclectic as its history. And even though not as many new books are available this year due to the pandemic hindering the ordering process, there are two floors of books for customers to peruse. Ferguson said customers can expect plenty of regional and natural history selections. “We have a great literary biography section, as well as poetry. Plus, great selections of decorating and design coffee-table books and cookbooks.” And, there are novels galore, contemporary titles and classics. 

Willoughby said that because the store is closed during the winter and early spring months anyway, the pandemic has not greatly impacted the business – at least so far. However, holding on to quaint ways had to be altered. “We started taking credit cards for the first time. This is partially due to the virus and the closing of Bank of America and Wells Fargo in Highlands.”

Find Another Shop

Is it true that people come to the mountains to shop? You bet! Most stores in the Highlands-Cashiers area are owner-operated. This means enjoying a level of personal attention unheard of at the mall. Many businesses have been here for decades and have become a destination for generations of shoppers.


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