So & So Books, founded by Chris Tonelli and Charles Wilkes, opened in 2013 in the storefront of an architecture firm called in situ studio. The two book lovers each work day jobs to keep their business venture alive. Matt Griffith, firm principal at in situ, said the strange partnership was first suggested at a poker night shared by all three friends.
"It felt honestly a little weird to put an architecture firm in that storefront in this commercial district that … we knew was on the verge of revitalizing and becoming a nice little walkable district," Griffith said. "So, the idea of having something other than the architecture firm at the street was really appealing to us, and the bookstore ended up being perfect."
Griffith and Tonelli are both NC State alumni. Griffith received his Master of Architecture in 2002, and Tonelli received two degrees from the university: a bachelor's for zoology in 1997, and later his Master of English. Both have maintained close relations with NC State and are employed by the university today. Griffith is an associate professor of Architecture, and Tonelli is the director of external relations for NC State University Library.* Griffith said he and Tonelli were introduced by mutual friend David Hill, head of the School of Architecture.
Tonelli said he and Wilkes thought the bookstore was a necessary addition to the downtown area, which was just starting to grow into the culture hub it is today.
"We were kind of like, if Raleigh is going to be — it's growing, it's trying to be a cool city, it needs a downtown bookstore," Tonelli said. "Quail Ridge had been pretty close to campus, but then moved further north to North Hills, and so there wasn't really a downtown bookstore … and so we were like, 'We need a little small bookstore here.'"
While Wilkes and Tonelli aren't present in the store, the architects at in situ manage the So & So clientele for most of the day. Griffith said this could make for an occasionally awkward, but ultimately rewarding experience.
"When I went to architecture school, I did not imagine that one day I would take part in managing a bookstore," Griffith said. "It brings people in the door throughout the day who otherwise would never stop in. And the other thing we really love is it makes the space much more active at night and on the weekends, because Chris and Charles do come in … but they also have lots of events, like readings and book signings and workshops and First Fridays and things like that that bring people in the space on a more regular basis than our little architecture firm would."
Wilkes is the primary curator for So & So's collection, and said he takes personal pride in each book the store carries.
"You want to have the best of what's newest," Wilkes said. "I really get excited about the new stuff. I like Tuesday, when the new books come out. It's the release day for books … It's my way of keeping up with what's going on and talking to people about books. On the rare occasion that someone comes in, I always jump on them to see what they're reading. Part of the reason we do it is to support the literary community, so that's one way to do that … We provide a service, and some people are appreciative of that, and if people find us, that's great."
in situ also subscribes to the modernist perspective, according to Griffith.
"Our office is a small office with six or seven people," Griffith said. "We work on small projects of all kinds, and they're all very uniquely tailored modern buildings. Everything we design is original for our clients and for the sites that we're building on."
Currently, every employee at in situ studio is either a student or has taught at NC State. Both businesses packed into this unassuming** storefront on N. Person Street have been connected to the university and the city of Raleigh — and to each other — for many years, and continue to nurture a culture of creativity, learning and growth. in situ is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. So & So remains open until 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and opens from 1-5 p.m. on weekends.
*Editor's note. Oct. 7, 2019: [Griffith is an associate professor of Architecture, and Tonelli is the director of external relations for NC State University Library] was rephrased for clarity
**Editor's note. Oct. 7, 2019: [unassumin] was rephrased for clarity