Local author writes Memphis ‘must-do’ bucket list book

Samantha Crespo
Samantha Crespo

2016-1215-crespo2-wPeople who live in the Memphis area sometimes overlook its charms, and Samantha Crespo is luring natives and visitors alike with what the city and its surrounds have to offer.

A seasoned travel writer, Crespo this year published the updated version of her popular book, “100 Things to Do in Memphis Before You Die,” 2nd Edition.

The first edition came out in 2014 and is now out of print. The newest version includes more than 20 brand-new entries, fresh food and drink recommendations, updates on a dozen popular attractions and more freebies. You’ll even read about where to go for fried chicken and a hug.

The latest book includes interviews with local greats who are incredibly generous with their time, she said. “Everyone is accessible. You never know which local celebrity you might run into that might help you.”

This edition’s updates were extensive because of the Mid-South’s growth, she said. Although only three businesses she featured had gone out of business, the bigger issue was that so many more had sprung up. Some key developments include the renovation of Shelby Farms, the creation of the Blues Hall of Fame, the development of the South Main arts district and Overton Square, and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.

She credits the Memphis area’s growth to its pioneering spirit.

“There’s that sense that everyone can do anything here,” Crespo said. “People fiercely embrace it, and are working to make it a better place and are working every day to express themselves creatively. … There’s a concentration of creative people that I’ve never experienced in any other city.”

Crespo is one of the earlier writers in the “100 Things” travel book series created by her publisher, Reedy Press. She is a natural fit because she writes for TNVacation.com’s blog and annual guides, her blog is about travel, and she has covered both the city and the state. She writes annually for the state’s “Staycation” guide, and she also edited the culinary guide for Brand USA, a federally funded tourism vehicle designed to attract international visitors to America.

Her family moved to Midtown in Memphis from Florida because of her husband’s job transfer with Medtronic. She said it was just luck that she was visiting the Memphis Zoo with their young daughter when she ran into a group of her former colleagues in Florida who had just landed the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau as a client. That sparked a conversation about how she could fit into their new role with Memphis. She had previously helped them serve the state of Tennessee, another client.

“It was funny that we moved here for my husband’s job, but it was good timing for my career as well.”

Memphis and the surrounding county, municipalities and communities had plenty of things for her to consider for her shorter travel writing as well as for her books.

“Narrowing it down to 100 wasn’t easy,” Crespo said. “… With Memphis being a city that’s beloved around the world, there’s no shortage of things to write about.”

She writes for her neighbors, she said. Falling in love with the Memphis area was easy, and she was surprised that lifelong Memphians didn’t always see the same charms. “It was clear to me there was a local market for this book as much as there was a global market.”

She was right. Her first and second editions have sold to customers as far away as Japan and Australia. Particularly around the holidays, Memphians start giving the book to each other.
She covers some of the must-haves, such as Graceland, but she tries to find new angles for locals who might otherwise believe they’ve done everything she could possibly cover in her book.

For example, Elvis fans who sigh about the Graceland prices (currently $38.75-$80 for adults) or who just don’t want to tour the Jungle Room again might want to explore Marlowe’s Ribs & Restaurant at 4381 Elvis Presley Blvd. in Memphis during Elvis Week. That’s where some of the world’s best Elvis tribute artists hang out when they’re not performing, Crespo said.
“For the price of a beer, you can really get sort of an intimate experience.”

She also said it’s a matter of knowing what to ask. Even those who have toured Sun Studios previously might not know they can request and receive permission for a sneak peek at Sam Phillips’ office.

Another relatively unknown experience for area visitors is dinner onstage at the Orpheum. Watch the schedule for the season and jump at the chance, because it also includes a question-and-answer period with the facility’s president and a behind-the-scenes tour.

A few outlying areas that Memphians also can enjoy exploring from her book’s tips include The Delta Blues Winery in Lakeland; the Morton Museum of Collierville History, the city’s self-guided walking tour of historic sites, Main Street Collierville and the Town Square; Bumbletees and Me and Mrs. Jones, both in Germantown; and Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, Shelby Forest General Store, Old Millington Winery and Jones Orchard, all in Millington.

Her book is available in multiple formats, and she recommends that people buy from her website if they want signed copies. Copies ordered via Amazon.com are shipped directly from the company’s fulfillment center and cannot be personalized at the time of order.

Local sites that sell the book include The Booksellers at Laurelwood, Burke’s Books, the Five in One Social Club, the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa Archaeological Site, Shelby Farms Park, Stax Museum of ?American Soul Music and Walking Pants Curiosities.

Although Crespo originally lived in and loved the Tampa Bay area, she said Memphis is now the right place for her. “I feel more at home in Memphis in the short time I’ve lives here than I ever did there. … There’s a warmth to Memphis and a realness, a friendliness that makes it more like home than that place I lived for more than 35 years.”

Crespo can be found on social media at her website, samanthacrespo.com; Twitter as @SamCrespo; Instagram as 100thingsmem and Facebook as 100ThingsToDoInMemphis. Email her at samanthacrespo@gmail.com.

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to bartlett.editor@journalinc.com.