A book and music mecca in the Driftless, with a dash of history
While the Driftless area has no lack of amazing and beautiful scenery, flora, fauna and a rich diverse culture, there are as many unique small businesses as well.
In digging in deeper to the endless very cool stores and shops on my weekly travels, I continued to hear about a store that many told me I had to do a short story on, Driftless Books and Music in Viroqua, Wisconsin and its owner Eddy Nix.
The day finally came when I had the honor of sitting down with Eddy in his store, um rather emporium of what seemed to be an endless amount of not just Books and music, but nostalgic architecture.
While I am not the first to write about one of the precious gems in the city of Viroqua, I felt compelled to take a crack at it.
Eddy’s place is a repurposed building that has a history stretching back to the early 1900’s. Originally the Viroqua Leaf Tobacco Co. warehouse, his building was one of three tobacco buildings. Two were co-ops, and one was privately owned. Eddy’s is the one that was privately owned.
With the building dated at between 112-115 years old, it was a tobacco place up until the 1980’s. It would then change hands, housing an educational supply company, then a doll museum, and antique mall in the 90’s.
Eventually a gentleman bought it. Not using the building and not wanting it to sit stagnant, he gave it Nix in 2004. All the while, Nix was quickly outgrowing his then small building where he had his book store in Viola. It should be mentioned that his building in Viola was hit hard by flooding and storms, leaving it not in the best of condition.
2004 also found Nix moving back to the Driftless from California. Initially, Nix, started his book store to supplement his part time teaching job at the Waldorf High School, where he was teaching subjects from Revolution history to technology, and drama among other subjects.
In 2008, Nix moved his business to the old tobacco warehouse, beginning the arduous task of sorting through his collection. Nix continued to buy book collections.
Nix, having a passion for books that could be deemed unique in topic or ideologies, amassed a collection of books over the years, and had brought them with him from California. Facing him was the problem of adequate storage space.
Continuing to buy whole book collections, Nix admitted that a good part of the books he has and does acquire are not of any value and in poor condition, cataloging became paramount in organizing his collection in order to weed out the ones he didn’t need.
In the beginning of his present-day location, Nix started to sell select books on ebay, which he still does today, noting much of his operational costs are covered by his ebay sales, and an important part of his overall business.
When asked how many books Eddy has in his business, he replied, “I have no idea, it’s kind of silly to even think. Its probably close to 250,000 to 500,000 conservatively.” That includes everything in his stock pile that is in his lower and upper level that he currently has no space for in the main store area. Nix acknowledged that he is working on going through those and cataloging them.
Nix stated that his sales continue to get better every summer and his ebay sales are pretty steady, remarking that the store and internet sales support each other. Nix’s internet sales have enabled him to hire some part-time staff to help him keep it running and sift through a sea of books and music.
As you walk through what seems to be endless sections of books, you come face to face with some very cool art work, that seems to not only belong, but adds to the feel of the place. The word independently-creative comes to mind.
Adding to the art, Nix’s place also has a room displaying abstract photographic art that is beyond amazing.
As for the music part of the business, besides plenty of vinyl, Nix has a large collection of sheet music, and even more of the likes stacked on pallets in the lower level that still needs to be gone through.
In addition, Driftless Books and Music has become a must stop in the Mid-west for musicians. Nix’s place has hosted folk artists, and impromptu jam sessions, an hour-long radio show, and a barn dance. Nix said that when moving book cases to the sides, seating can accommodate over 100 people.
Although, Nix continues to get emails from various musicians asking to play here, already a few months into the summer season, he said they are in a cleaning the slate stage to reorganize a music co-op started two years ago to handle the demand of his venue. He stressed that it will continue, though even better. Nix acknowledged the potential of his music venue, and said he is just “letting it happen in its own way, and on its own time.”
One thing you will always get when you visit Eddy and his team, “How’s it going? Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?” Believe me, there is a whole lot of particular in Eddy’s place.
Driftless Books and Music is located at 18 Walnut St, Viroqua, Wisconsin 54665.
Photos from Driftless Books and Music