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Why Carytown’s Chop Suey Books is thriving in the digital age

RICHMOND, Va. -- It’s no work of fiction. Ward Tefft makes sure to unplug every day.

“We like to have our senses triggered in this and that is what a book does,” said Tefft. “When you open a book, you’re opening a new world.”

The Richmonder prefers his written word on pulp.

“I think people are realizing that reading an e-book is not the same as having a book,” said Tefft. “I look at too many screens during the day. I have the computer here and I’m answering emails and I have my phone. The last thing I want to do is look at another screen.”

Ward Tefft

The 46-year-old opened Chop Suey, new and used independent bookstore in 2002 just before on-line behemoth Amazon started gaining popularity. But the former VCU student says his store in the heart of Carytown is thriving even in the digital age.

“It never really threatened me at all,” said Tefft. “I felt Richmond needed it. Not only would they support it but would be very excited about it. I was proven right.”

The Maryland native says his business provides literary insight that no computer-generated algorithms can.

“One of the things we are fond of saying we might not have the book you want but we have the book you need,” said Tefft.

Even store mascot Won Ton, a black and white cat has discerning tastes.

“He is very specific about what books he lays down on. He is a connoisseur of fine literature,” said Tefft.

“It is probably one of the biggest reasons I moved to this neighborhood.”

Chop Suey draws customers like writer Chelsea Johnson again, again. The new author and teacher at William and Mary says the landmark is a gathering place for lovers of literature.

“To me, Chop Suey is the equivalent of a neighborhood bar and I’m a day drinker. I come in here all of the time even if there is not a book I need to get.”

The stores name comes from the closed Chinese Food Restaurant on Cary Street where Tefft first opened.

“We think Chop Suey is mandarin which means ‘a little bit of this and a little bit of that’ and that is exactly what we are.”

Tefft says his next chapter promises to be a page turner. But you can bet Ward Tefft will not be reading it on an electronic device.

“Oh yeah definitely,” said Tefft. “I know I could never give up books.”

Chop Suey Books is located on Cary Street right across from the Byrd Theatre.

Watch CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. Fridays for Greg McQuade’s “I Have A Story” reports. If you know of someone Greg should feature in my “I Have A Story” segment email him at gmcquade@wtvr.com.

Watch "I Have A Story" Fridays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. If you know of someone with an interesting story we should tell, email gmcquade@wtvr.com