They call them browsing beverages here — the wines and champagnes with names like The Secret Garden and the Great Gadsby.

You can take them with you as you wander through the books — around the corners, past the shelves, into the nooks and cozy sitting areas — as if you were circulating at a party. At the foot of a narrow staircase, a sign — “More books upstairs? Why yes!!!” — urges you up. You oblige. All of Battery Park Book Exchange is an invitation, and you’re here to celebrate.

After a long career in industrial chemical manufacturing and restaurant management, Thomas Wright wanted to do something different. In 2004, he bought a bookstore in Little Switzerland, and in 2009, he started the Battery Park Book Exchange in Asheville’s Battery Park Hotel, before moving to the nearby Grove Arcade in 2011. Wright knew that it would take more than books to pay the rent, so he added tea, wine, and specialty snacks, like cheese and charcuterie, to the store’s offerings. The champagne, he says, was inspired by his wife’s love of sparkling wines.

Although they started out as a novelty and a financial necessity, the browsing beverages elevate this place. It’s not just another used bookstore; it’s a sophisticated parlor of a place, with rich, red walls and granite countertops. But the armchairs and ambient lighting make it comfortable, too.

“We try to celebrate literature through hospitality,” Wright says. “It’s a nice place where books and literature are honored.”

And, although he’ll tell you it was unintentional, he’ll acknowledge that the store honors Asheville. The stately furniture and the old books, the fizzy drinks and the fancy food — they call to mind the old aspirations of a city realized.

[Originally published by Our State]