It’s lit-erature: Atlanta’s independent bookstores survive against corporate booksellers

Buying up a novel has gone a long way from perusing a local bookstore. If people want to get their hands on a book, they stop by a large chain store like Barnes & Noble or click over to Amazon.com.

In the heart of the city, as well as in the metro Atlanta area, there are independent bookstores that have built a following for long enough to become a niche staple in their own right.

———-

A Cappella Books

A man reads during his visits to independent bookstore, Acapella Books located in Atlanta neighborhood, Inman Park. Photo by Dayne Francis | The Signal
A man reads during his visits to independent bookstore, Acapella Books located in Atlanta neighborhood, Inman Park.
Photo by Dayne Francis | The Signal

A Cappella Books has been the quintessential bookseller in the city since 1989. The bricked building houses new selections from top to floor with crafted chalkboard art that changes regularly. Books both new and contemporary are on the shelves each day. A Cappella, in particular, has a niche selection of Atlanta, Georgia and Southern lit. Eclectic picks also include books on Metaphysics and the Occult, along with classic eras such as the Beats.

Clara Nibbelink, the Promotions and Events Coordinator of A Cappella, sees no competition between locally run book shops and major corporations or businesses.

Q: Why do you think independent bookstores are few and far between compared to chains or online options? (i.e. Amazon, etc.)

Nibbelink: A Cappella is supportive of all bookstores because we’re supportive of reading. But independent bookstores have a unique place in the community that can’t be filled by a generic nationally-run chain or an online seller. We have room for eccentricity and elasticity.

Q: Why should college students support independent bookstores over any other option that may seem more convenient?

Nibbelink: If you can plan ahead to get your books, or if you’re looking to expand your mind outside of the classroom, going indie is a great place to go. Our store, in particular, is new and used, so we always have a wide selection of very cheaply priced books you’ll often see on syllabi. You may stumble upon something you never knew you wanted to read, which to me is the great joy of being in such a tiny, curated, strange little store.

Q: What is the main difference between an independent bookstore from a chain?

Nibbelink: How curated we are able to be, and how we can change the way we work to fit the needs and tastes of the community we’re in. A big corporation can’t respond as nimbly to the needs and quirks of real people as a small store can. You should shop the way you need to shop to live and thrive, but I pick and choose what I get from Amazon, and now that I’ve seen the other side, books are something that I no longer feel comfortable buying on that particular site.

Q: What do novels and reading mean to you?

Nibbelink: Lately, I’ve been having the weird, dislocating feeling that precludes an existential crisis and usually starts with the question, “What are people even for anyway?”. I thought and thought about why I might be having this feeling; maybe I’m too young, maybe I’ve been listening to the news too much and then I realized that I just hadn’t read a novel in a while. I went to Proof, the coffee shop and took a book I found on their free shelf: Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness. I read the first story and finished with tears on my cheeks. Oh yeah. That’s what people are for.

Q: Do you have any book recommendations for college students?

Nibbelink: College is the time to expand your brain at a mind-blowing pace, so use it to read books by people you’ve never encountered before–people from other cultures, creeds, races, religions, genders, political philosophies. Read a book by a geographer and read a book by an intersectional feminist. Find a poem you like and then read more by that poet. Follow your nose and your curiosity, and you will find the books that I’ve been waiting, quietly, to change you and to open up your world.

———-
208 Haralson Ave. NE

Atlanta, GA 30307

(404) 681-5128

———-

Atlanta Vintage Books

Specializing in the old and rare, Atlanta Vintage Books is the place to go for a novel to be found nowhere else. This strip-mall bound store is off of Clairmont Road, with shelves containing a book on Christ to a book on UFOs. However, beware of the cats that frequent the place.

Bob Roarty, along with his wife Jan Bogla, used to be involved in graphics and printing before they bought the shop as of 10 years ago.

Q: Why do you think independent bookstores are few and far between compared to chains or online options? (i.e. Amazon, etc.)

Roarty: Size is a big deal. Independent bookstores may be located in high-traffic areas, but because they’re small and don’t have as many books, people can walk in and then 20 minutes later, see everything you have. It’s that way around the country as in town neighborhoods get gentrified and Downtown becomes more attractive, so the small independent bookstores get priced out.  

Q: What is the main difference between an independent bookstore from a chain?

Roarty: I’ve often said we’re like Cheers without the beer. When you come in here, everybody knows your name. If you’re a regular very often, you’re greeted by name. We have something in common with everyone who walks in the door. We’re happy to recommend books. We’re happy to order books for you. We are are happy to discuss books.

Q: Do you have any book recommendations for college students?

Roarty: I would say one book that everyone should read is “Fahrenheit 451,” the science fiction story by Ray Bradbury. It’s about a future civilization where owning books is a crime, and if you have books, firemen come and burn them.
———-

3660 Clairmont Rd

Atlanta, GA 30341

———-

Charis Books & More

Charis Books and More is the nation’s oldest and largest independent feminist bookstore. Since the 70’s, Charis Books has had a home in the Little 5 Points district to provide any literature that would be considered relevant to feminism. They have a non-profit arm, titled Charis Circle, which fosters feminist communities and actively strives for social justice.

The lilac building houses sections such as children’s books Feminist and cultural studies, and LGBTQ fiction and nonfiction. Any book can be requested to be ordered, with a directory on the website to search any book. Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, Maya Angelou, Jane Fonda and the Indigo Girls are among the women who have shopped at Charis.

Elizabeth Anderson is the Executive Director of Charis Circle and works closely within the bookstore to create programming and events at the shop.

Q: Why do you think independent bookstores are few and far between compared to chains or online options? (i.e. Amazon, etc.)

Anderson: Independent bookstores are less prevalent than they once were because, in the early 1990’s, big box chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble came in and ate up a lot of the market. They forced a lot of smaller stores out of business. Amazon came along later and received unfair tax advantages and help from the government as an online retailer, and they put Borders out of business as well as hundreds of independent bookstores.

Q: Why are independent bookstores important to you?

Anderson: Indie bookstores create culture, we don’t just sell it. We support activists and are the connective tissue of communities. We give back to our community by paying taxes, hiring local workers, and we are loyal to our customers, ordering the things our customers care about. We will remember your face and your name and your favorite book, and we will make personalized recommendations that aren’t based on an algorithm, but on actual human interactions. Most importantly, we know about books. We love books. They are our life’s work.

Q: Why should college students support independent bookstores over any other option that may seem more convenient?

Anderson: For novels, other kinds of non-fiction or books you want to keep, the value of shopping at an indie is in the experience. Charis is a place where you can come learn a lot of things you would never learn in a classroom, about activism, about feminism, about Black Lives Matter, and social justice, and all kinds of things and you can try ideas on for size with no one grading or judging you.

Q: Do you pick your own catalog?

Anderson: We choose every single title that comes through our stores. We narrow things down so that you don’t waste your time. If you come to my store and ask me for help, you won’t just get 22 suggestions that have the right keyword in the title, you will get books I know will help you because I have read them and know what’s in them.

Q: What do novels and reading mean to you?

Anderson: C.S. Lewis said, “We read books to know we’re not alone.” I think for me it’s as simple as that. If you have ever felt different, ostracized or on the outside looking in, books are an important way to remember that your pain and your loneliness are not new, that there have been other people who have felt the way that you have felt, and there will be people who come after you who feel that way too. Our struggles, though painful, aren’t unique. Somehow that’s very comforting and something that only books provide.

Q: Do you have any book recommendations for college students?

Anderson: My only recommendation is to never be ashamed of the books you want to read. There’s no such thing as a worthy book. If it brings you joy, helps you escape your reality for a little while or makes you feel less lonely, you should read it. If you want your own personalized book recommendation, you should come see me at Charis, and I’ll hook you up.

———-

1189 Euclid Ave, NE

Atlanta, GA 30307

———-

Photo Feb 17, 12 50 57 PM

Find some more:

Eagle Eye Bookshop

Tall Tales Books

Book Nook

Sister’s Bookshop

About Sydney Cunningham 52 Articles
Sydney Cunningham is a riot girl, Journalism major, Women’s Studies and French minor. She’s often: reading when she can, watching too much film and television, crying over Fiona Apple and other rambling off trivia no one asked for. Her ideal career is one where she can use her words and point of view to somehow make a living off of, whether it be creatively or not.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: