Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bookstore of the Month: Avid Bookshop

Avid Bookshop
493 Prince Ave.
Athens, GA  30601
(706) 352-2060
Avid Bookshop on Facebook
Avid Bookshop on Twitter
Avid Bookshop on Instagram

The first thing you should know about Avid Bookshop is that its booksellers like to talk about you behind your back.

“I have a confession to make,” owner Janet Geddis told me in an email.  “More often than not, when a customer leaves the store we say something about him or her the moment he/she has left.  You know what it is we say?  ‘I love her.’  ‘I love him.’  ‘I love them.’  ‘That kid is the best.’  I wholeheartedly believe our customers are the best in all the land, and I sure do hope that other bookstore owners feel the exact same way.”

Avid is relatively young in Bookstore Years (they opened in 2011), but that kind of customer-oriented attitude will carry them far in the business.  The store is located in Athens, Georgia, a picturesque town founded on the banks of the Oconee River.  Cotton was once king in this part of the state and Athens was called the “Manchester of the South” after the city in England known for its mills.  Today, it’s primarily known for manufacturing great rock bands like R.E.M. and the B-52’s.

“Athens, Georgia is a magical little town,” Geddis said.  “Nearly every person you encounter is an artist or creator of some kind.  You can’t throw a pebble without hitting a musician, and usually that musician is also a poet or a visual artist.  Folks are very supportive of one another’s creative ventures, and that extends to independent-spirited local businesses like Avid Bookshop.”

The Avid Bookshop credo goes something like this: “We are a customer-oriented shop that excels at having a well-curated selection and an excellent events series.  We love playing matchmaker and helping every customer find that perfect book.”  Geddis went on to say: “In short, we adore our customers and do our best to let them know how much we enjoy talking with them about books, about their lives, about their classes, about their vacations, you name it.  Our customers are really enthusiastic, smart, and utterly lovable.  I sound over the top here, but I assure you I am being 100% genuine.”

Likewise, the customers have responded, er, avidly to the care and feeding they get from Geddis and her staff.  The bookstore was recently voted Athens’ Favorite Local Business for the second year in a row in the Flagpole Favorites vote-based competition in the city’s alt-weekly publication.  “They like us,” Geddis said.  “They really like us.”

The most rewarding thing about being a bookseller?  “Having the amazing opportunity to connect to readers of all ages, being able to meet authors (they’re our personal rock stars), and getting to talk about books all day, every day.  In talking about books, you get the chance to know authors and readers in this incredibly intimate and really meaningful way.  That’s such a gift.”

The unofficial store mascot is Frank, the Fabulous Fiction Fan.   He was designed in 2012 by a then-12-year-old artist named Jeremy Kiran Fernandes, and now Frank’s image is all around the store and on every can of Avid Blend Coffee (a special java created by Athens coffee company Jittery Joe’s).

For those bookstore browsers who would like to see more of a fur-based mascot, rest assured there is an official store cat--he just doesn’t hang out in the stacks, that’s all, Geddis said.  “I work from my home office quite a lot, and my cat Satchel is the official Home Office Kitty.  He even has his own Instagram hashtag and special fans.  People have asked us to turn him into a bookstore cat, but we want to be sensitive to booksellers’ and customers’ allergies (plus we don’t want the cat to run into the street--he’s wily), so no store cat for us.  #SatchelCat shall remain a home office kitty.”

Here are more of Geddis’ responses to the questionnaire I sent to her:

Current staff picks:  Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward; Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder; The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson; The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos; Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill; Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler; Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away by Rebecca Goldstein; Red Doc> by Anne Carson; and anything by David Levithan or Rainbow Rowell.

Bestselling titles:  Our #1 bestseller by far is Top Chef’s Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South.  Lately, we’ve been selling lots of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, anything by Jennifer Holm, and Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans.

Oddest/funniest request from a customer:  Perhaps the classic bookshop question from a customer: I am trying to find a book about _____.  I don’t know the title or author.  All I know is the cover is and I found out about it from _____.  Rather than being frustrated by the vagueness of these requests, we view them as missions and have a blast tracking down the clues until we find that exact right book.  The look on a customer’s face when we direct him to the precise book he’s looking for after only having received the sketchiest of clues is just priceless.

Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan read to a packed house
The best (or most memorable) author event at our store:
 The Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan YA Party was incredible.  The response from our customers and those who drove hours and hours to see Rainbow and David was overwhelming.  We’d pitched events for both with their respective publishers, but the authors weren’t touring in Georgia, so we figured all was lost.  After some Avid booksellers befriended David Levithan at the Decatur Book Festival, however, David took the helm, gave Rainbow a call, and they made a special trip to Athens.  It was a raucous and funny and tear-jerking and completely memorable evening.  Click here to see photos for this event at Facebook.

Avid Bookshop is the featured bookstore all this month at The Quivering Pen.  By clicking on the links to books mentioned in this month's blog posts, you'll be taken to the store's website where you can purchase the book (or, better yet, several books).  The Quivering Pen is dedicated to supporting independent bookstores.

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