A bookseller boom is afoot in Atlanta

A recent number of bookshops are opening, or pivoting, with innovative concepts. Here are five of them.

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44th and 3rd Bookseller
Cheryl Lee, co-owner, 44th and 3rd Bookseller in West End

Photograph by Martha Williams

Last year, when the coworking space Switchyards announced that it was opening a “Library of Deep Focus and Work” at its Decatur location—describing the concept as the “the quietest room in the city” and “a gym for the mind”—the reception was frosty. The $100 monthly membership fee made the concept feel a tad out of touch—also, there are no books.

The misnomer prompted a rebuke from website Literary Hub: “Don’t call your members-only coworking space a library.” It’s especially inappropriate, says Katie Mitchell, founder of Good Books ATL, when there are real book deserts—geographic areas where reading materials, whether on loan or purchased, are difficult to obtain. Mitchell launched her mobile and pop-up book company in 2019 to address these challenges directly.

According to the American Booksellers Association, between 2020 and 2021, more than 80 bookstores shuttered nationwide—nearly two a week. In the Atlanta area, that number included the beloved Lawrenceville shop Books by the Pound—a casualty of the pandemic’s first summer. But bookstores are rallying, and pivots including curbside pickups, mobile book vending, and virtual book talks in lieu of in-person signings have become commonplace at local shops like A Cappella Books, Charis Books & More, and Little Shop of Stories.

Lucian Books and Wine’s Katie Barringer, who once questioned why a “huge and global city like Atlanta didn’t have a book culture,” feels the city is finally hitting its stride with the recent number of bookshops opening, or pivoting, with innovative concepts. Here are five of them:

44th and 3rd Bookseller
Like the BeltLine, 44th and 3rd Bookseller began as a master’s thesis. “I wrote my thesis on the issues and challenges facing independent bookstores nationwide, and I found that, despite these challenges, community members chose to support local bookstores—especially when it came to Black-owned bookstores,” says Cheryl Lee, who, alongside her husband, Warren, and daughter, Allyce, first opened 44th and 3rd in Little Five Points in 2017, before relocating in 2020 to the Entra West End mixed-use development. The namesake is a nod to the 44th president of the United States and the shop’s three focuses: “Black life, literature, and legacy.”

Lucian Books and Wine
After closing her first shop, Cover Books, and taking an inspiring jaunt to London in 2018, Barringer and Jordan Smelt, a sommelier, came up with the idea to merge their three loves: books, wine, and London. Lucian—which opened in Buckhead in June 2021 with the tagline “Beautiful books, smart wine, and thoughtful food”—offers a dinner menu to pair with wine for book browsers. The books are not just there as a decorative backdrop for dining—they’re meant to be touched, flipped through, and purchased. “There’s no physical separation between the wine bar, restaurant, and bookstore, and when guests are seated for dinner, they are faced with a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelf of books,” says Barringer. “Often, people will finish their meal and walk straight to a specific book they’ve been staring at for hours and say, I finally had to come and see it.”

For Keeps Bookstore
Rosa Duffy has taken her knack for sleuthing out rare and out-of-print literary works beyond For Keeps Bookstore, the Auburn Avenue brick-and-mortar for which she’s known. She recently partnered with the online Saint Heron Community Library, founded by singer Solange Knowles, to curate its first collection, or “season,” which featured titles such as Adrian Piper’s Reflections 1967-1987, Julianna Free’s La Tete, and Octavia E. Butler’s science-fiction novel Clay’s Ark. For 45 days, users are invited to check out one item from the list of hard-to-find novels, art anthologies, poem collections, zines, and classic archival texts, and are provided the materials to ship the book back. “The entire exchange is based on an honor system and trust,” says Duffy. “It’s open to the public and completely free of charge.”

Virginia Highland Books
Although Sandra Huff’s bookshop just opened its doors last June, it has already established itself as a Virginia-Highland staple—all owing, says Huff, to the space, location, and people. The building, which dates back to 1900, is “loaded with character,” she says. “It has old wood floors and exposed brick walls, and it’s a perfect backdrop for our eclectic book selection.” She also gives back to the community by supporting local neighborhood organizations. “We have our community-service project, where every month we’re supporting a different organization,” she says. “For example, we’ve collected used books to donate to Hillside Atlanta, a behavioral-health institution for teens in our neighborhood, and X Books, an organization that provides books for people in prisons.”

Good Books ATL
When Katie Mitchell and her mother, Katherine Mitchell, started Good Books ATL in 2019, they knew they wanted the Black lit–focused concept to be accessible and mobile. Customers can browse through books on their website or during pop-ups around the city, and collaborate with Katie on “custom curations” ($50 minimum budget). “It’s basically a personal-shopping experience based on their interests and budget,” explains Katie. “This helps customers build a personal library to fit their personality.” The online-first concept suits the mother-daughter duo just fine, for now. “You used to have to have all this money for a brick-and-mortar location and to run [advertising] spots on TV and in the newspaper, and that’s not the case anymore,” says Katie. “We started on Instagram, and that was it.”

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This article appears in our March 2022 issue.

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