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Meet the booksellers: Hartselle couple share the love of reading through their independent bookstore

Photos by Rachel Howard

At the corner of Nance Ford and Barkley Bridge roads, there’s a small, independent bookstore where imaginations are encouraged to thrive and secondhand books are treated like golden bricks.

Cheryl and Bobby Kalhstorf are the Hartselle couple who own Branch Books and the 60,000 books inside that range from historical fiction, mystery thrillers and autobiographies.

Branch Books began as a consignment store located first in Cullman and then in Vinemont that closed and left the Kalhstorfs with more than 3,000 books in their possession.

In June 2019 the couple opened their store front in Hartselle to sell their books and have grown to resell online as well.

Cheryl said her favorite authors are Terri Blackstock and Robert Whitlow, both Christian fiction writers. She enjoys sharing her passion for reading with young patrons of Branch Books who make up roughly 40 percent of their customers.

“I love for kids to be reading and to learn to love reading,” she said. “They’re on tablets and in front of TVs these days – we have kids’ books all over the place trying to encourage children to get back into reading.”

Reading more at an early age, Cheryl said, helps children as they build their vocabulary. As children learn and grow, reading also helps them be more creative. For Bobby, his love of reading comes directly from his mother and grandmother.

“We always had books around the house,” he said. “Back before social media, we had newspapers and magazines to peruse – and that was our entertainment.

“Reading is important because the knowledge gained raises IQs and stimulates neural connections in your brain,” Bobby added. “If you’re like us, you go home in the evening and flip on the TV to relax and the next day you can’t even remember what you watched the next day. With a book, you’re engaged. You use your mind and your imagination.

That’s probably why I love old radio shows now,” Bobby added. “They paint a vivid picture for you in your mind that is unique to every individual. Each person develops a snowflake image of what a character looks and sounds like. The brain is marvelous in how it fills in all those details.”

Bobby said he especially enjoys historical fiction and anything that can be easily reread.

“I have a long list of favorite books,” he said.

Despite their accumulation of half a million books through the years, the couple still travel in their spare time to estate sales to procure more books of all kinds – so many now that the majority of their inventory is stored in a warehouse and accompanying storage unit.

“It’s fun and it’s good to give them a new life,” Bobby said. “People love their books and we love the idea that we can give them a new home.”

This spring, the couple plan on finishing an expansion project that is underway now, giving Branch Books more retail space – and allowing them to move more books to their store. A bookshelf that separates the two storefronts will soon become a doorway that joins the rooms of bookshelves together.

While most of the books the Kalstorfs buy and sell are not rare, the couple once came across a first edition of A Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that was worth $500.

While Branch Books is a business, the Kalstorfs say they don’t do it for the money, but rather for the love of reading and for the love of the independent bookstore.

“After four years, we still get people from Hartselle come in regularly who say ‘We didn’t know you were here,’” Bobby said. “We don’t want the independent bookstore to go the way of the dinosaur – we’re very thankful for our customers, especially our regulars.”

Branch Books is located at 701 H Nance Ford Rd., Hartselle. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

For more information, find them on Facebook or visit www.branchbooks.net.

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