HORSE CAVE — A town of 2,252 supports two independent bookstores, and both owners said they would like to see more such stores in town.
"People thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to open another bookstore here, just around the corner from another one," said Michael Johnston, one of the owners of Two Bears and a Dog.
On a visit to the family of his partner, Andy Muckler, the two drove through Horse Cave to eat at Snappy's Pizza.
"I saw this building. ... Next thing you know, we've opened," he said.
Johnston said opening a bookstore was something he planned to do after retiring from being a chef.
"But Andy and I talked it over, ... and he said: 'If anybody can make it work, you can,'" he said.
The store, open a little more than a year, is across the street from the American Cave and Karst Museum and often draws visitors from there.
Its doors usually are open on warm days, with one of the store's two dogs on a lead out front.
"She's a kid magnet," Johnston said of the beagle, Nushka.
The store's other dog is a yellow Lab named Maggie. Johnston said he didn't want to rename the store.
Some children who wander in think they are coming to the library, he said.
The store has about 10,000 volumes, about 2,500 of which are cookbooks.
The collection includes 2,000 signed first editions, including Johnston's pride and joy: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, signed by two of its three authors, Julia Child and Simone Beck.
"This is part of my personal collection, but I'd let it go for the right price," he said.
The right price? $6,500.
Most of the books are much less expensive, with nearly new hardcovers going for $10 and paperbacks for $3.50.
"Our books are pristine," he said.
Johnston said some people often come in specifically seeking first editions for their collections; others are just looking for something to read or specific authors they like.
To build the store's inventory, Johnston bought several large collections from estates, and he scouts auctions. He also has a few people who scout boxes for him, and then he trades with them.
In addition to used books, the store carries many Kentucky authors and has held several book signings for them.
Johnston said some people predicted the doom of bookstores because of the increased popularity of electronic devices such as tablet computers and e-readers, but he doesn't see it that way.
"There were 41 independent bookstores that opened last year," he said. "There are too many people who enjoy the feel and smell of a real book."
In addition to selling books, Johnston and Muckler are trained in book repair and restoration.
Johnston said he has been asked to cater or host cooking parties, something he might consider doing later.
"In the next year, I'd like to remodel the upstairs and move the cookbooks upstairs, with some vintage cookware and Kentucky Proud products," he said. "Bon Appetit publishes a list of the top cookbook stores every year, and I'd like to be on that list."
As for The Bookstore, around the corner on Water Street, Johnston said he doesn't think they compete with each other.
"I think we complement each other," he said. "If I don't have something somebody wants, I send them there if he has it and vice versa."
The Bookstore's owner, Tom Chaney, agrees.
"They are more upscale," Chaney said of Two Bears. "We deal in a lot of cheap mass-market paperbacks."
Barbara Hanawalt, owner of The Gypsy's Closet, a clothing and gift shop next to Two Bears, said she appreciates having the two stores in town.
"They do different things," Hanawalt said.
The stores' owners help coordinate a large book festival that the town will host in June to coincide with a Smithsonian exhibit that will be at the cave museum.
"We have over 100 authors coming to that event," Johnston said. "It's going to be modeled after the Southern Kentucky Book Festival" in Bowling Green.
There also will be an exhibit from the American Quilters Museum in Paducah.
Both men said they would like to see more bookstores in town, similar to towns that have clusters of antiques stores.
"I'd like to see maybe a children's bookstore, a mysteries store or maybe an antiquarian bookstore," Johnston said.