In recognition of Independent Bookstores Day (Saturday, May 29), I’m republishing this profile of Atlanta’s indomitable A Cappella Books, a real treasure, from a couple of years ago.
Like newspapers and the music business, bookstores everywhere have taken an evolutionary hit in the digital age. Many have folded up, including all the Borders chain and Atlanta’s Outwrite.
But A Cappella Books continues to give bibliophiles reason to hope — and to spend money. On Friday, one of Atlanta’s most enduring independent bookstores celebrated 25 years in business. Supporters gathered for a reception at The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and a party afterward at Manuel’s Tavern.
It was also a launch of a new book about the shop, featuring some of the city’s top writers, called “A Cozy Infinity.”
‘I Like Seeing the Good Guys Win’
Throughout the years and changing marketplace, owner Frank Reiss has moved the store to a few locations in the Little Five Points/Inman Park area. He’s adapted nimbly from his original focus on hard-to-find and out-of-print books. Now he has added more online sales, more events with authors, and selling more signed copies.
The first two locations were in the heart of Little Five Points, with heavy foot traffic and lots of stores and restaurants around. Now, he’s in a more isolated spot nearby that’s right up against busy DeKalb Avenue.
“This isn’t the story that everybody thinks of, this romantic haven for reading,” he says. “It is in a way. But it’s been a hustle, a lot of strategic business decisions to survive and do OK. So that’s what the story really is.”
Reiss has built the kind of goodwill that local merchants dream of.
“It was a great pleasure to pay tribute to one of the world’s nicest people who, as a bookseller, also happens to be raising the knowledge/intelligence/enlightenment quotient of the greater Atlanta region,” said Hank Klibanoff, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution managing editor and contributor to the book.
“From some great authors, you could feel the enormous rush of love for Frank and his support for their work. It was one of those start-to-finish feel good evenings.”
And from a fan on Facebook, Noel Mayeske: “I like seeing the good guys win. Great job Frank on building a book store Atlanta loves, and enduring through some very changing times over 25 years. Here’s to many more!”
And it’s not just anybody who can score a presidential library and Manuel’s on the same night.
Let Him Tell His Own Story
I could write a recap of the store’s history. But this is really good, from the store’s website:
When A Cappella Books first opened its doors in Little Five Points in 1989, there was no Amazon. For all intents and purposes there was no internet. Barnes & Noble had not even arrived in Atlanta. Oxford Books dominated the local retail book landscape, with another newcomer, Chapter 11, nipping at its heels. Only a few years later, Oxford had succumbed to its newfangled competition. In several more years, Chapter 11 was bankrupt.
A quarter century–and three re-locations–later, A Cappella is still going strong, and, while still hardly bigger physically than its original incarnation, the little store plays a big role in the local literary scene, presenting important authors and selling books at venues all over town.
To celebrate its longevity, A Cappella is publishing a book: A Cozy Infinity: 25 (Mostly) Atlanta Writers on the Never-Ending Allure of Books and Bookstores. Contributors to the volume include Pulitzer Prize-winner Hank Klibanoff, former Atlanta Magazine editor Rebecca Burns, James Beard award-winning food writer John T. Edge, popular columnist Hollis Gillespie and celebrated local novelists Thomas Mullen, Susan Rebecca White, Anthony Grooms, and Joseph Skibell. The book’s title comes from one of the 25 essays contained in it, penned by Esquire staff writer and Atlanta resident Tom Junod
Reiss ended up writing more of “A Cozy Infinity” than he had planned.
“It’s where I tell the story of how I got into the book business and started the bookstore here in Atlanta and figured out a way to keep doing it for 25 years,” he said.
Independent Bookstores Are Doing Better
The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, says its membership grew 6.4 percent in 2013, to 2,022. Sales were up 8 percent in 2012, and those gains held last year, The Washington Post reported in an article citing a resurgence of independents.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement, but not everything is doom and gloom for America’s bookstores,” reported The Open Education Database.
In 2013, Publisher’s Weekly ranked Georgia as 18th among states for book sales. The state had 252 independent bookstores.
Let me know about others, and share your stories and support for A Cappella and other independent bookstores.
As writer Roy Blount, Jr. put it: “We don’t want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods.”