The City of Fairhope, Alabama, and its iconic Page & Palette bookstore have been an integral part of resident Karin Wolff Wilson’s life “just about forever,” she says. “My grandmother, Betty Joe Wolff, started the business, and I really can’t remember a time when it wasn’t my second home, my favorite place. I worked here as a child, so it was just a natural progression for me to want to take over when Granny was ready to step down.”
Wilson and her family are following in her grandmother’s footsteps once again. Mrs. Wolff lived in the apartment over the store for many years, and recently the Wilson family – Karin, husband Kiefer, and their two nearly-grown daughters, plus Karin’s mother, have moved into newly redesigned quarters upstairs from the store. “We worked together to design space that is flexible and functional – it will serve our needs for a very long time,” says Wilson. The redesign made it possible to have three separate apartments that share a stairway and a common entrance area. The main space, which the Wilsons share with younger daughter Tanner, has two bedrooms, two full baths, a half bath, utility room, and an open, airy, light-filled living-eating-kitchen area wrapped with a balcony that overlooks the heart of downtown Fairhope. Older daughter Tyler, a college student, has her own adjacent studio apartment. “Tyler’s space will be repurposed once she leaves the nest, and it will provide us with space to put up visiting authors who come to do programs downstairs at the bookstore,” she explains. The third living space is occupied by the mayor’s mother, Marcia Mathis. “It’s wonderful to have her nearby but in her own private home,” Wilson says.
In addition to creating the living spaces, the Wilsons recently made a number of changes and improvements to the retail space on the ground level. “Since 1997, when I bought Page & Palette from my grandmother, the bookstore business has undergone drastic changes and we have had to overcome many challenges to adapt and survive,” says Wilson. A few years after taking over the store, the Wilsons added the coffee shop, Latte Da. “We needed to provide a reason for our customers to drop in even when they weren’t planning to buy a book,” she explains. “We welcomed work-from-home folks, tennis moms, and everyone else, and Latte Da became both a business generator for us and a much-loved resource for the community.” Latte Da has a unique draw for many Fairhope residents – the Friendly Advice Booth that is open on Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 to 1:30. For just a nickel, Sonya Bennett and Nancye Jennings pool their considerable experience to offer advice on “anything and everything except horse races and the stock market,” as Bennett puts it. “We have regulars who wouldn’t dream of coming in without stopping for some nearly-free advice,” says Wilson.
The store evolved in other ways as well, and just last year the Wilsons opened The Book Cellar, a sleek, modern wine bar that doubles as an event space for book signings, author presentations, and other events. “We had used the space that is now our home for events at one point, but it involved navigating stairs and hauling out folding chairs. Then we used a space that now houses our children’s books, but we outgrew it, and renting off-site space was challenging both logistically and financially,” says Wilson. “The Book Cellar gives us a great event space and provides a comfortable, casual gathering space for locals to sit and visit, have a cocktail or a glass of wine, and even listen to live music on a frequent basis.”
Wilson capped off a year or more of home and business renovations with a successful run for Mayor of Fairhope. “I am so fortunate that my husband Kiefer was supportive of my campaign, and even more, that he is doing more than ever – and that’s a lot – to keep the bookstore and all its parts running successfully,” says the town’s first female mayor. “Life is good in Fairhope.”
PAGE & PALETTE
The Book Cellar
32 South Section Street
Fairhope AL 36532