Independent bookstores sell books, create community

Courtesy Charis Books & More

Atlanta readers are getting more from their local independent bookstores than just a good read. Customers are finding that a bookstore can be an inclusive “third space” – a distinct social space apart from home and work.

Little Shop of Stories

Justin Colussy-Estes, store manager since 2016 at Decatur children’s bookstore Little Shop of Stories, believes that independent bookstores are most successful when they “identify what the community wants and meets those needs.”

This store creates an inclusive space for all ages with themed book clubs for kids, teens, and grownups.

“I left the store the way I always leave it, a little bit happier, with a little bit more faith in the community” says Emily, in her blog post about Little Shop of Stories. Emily says that she always recommends it to friends and that all the books “seem personally curated.”

The “event-driven” store started hosting a banned book club when a frequent customer brought the issue to their attention. The club discusses the book, why it was banned and they “have a good time fighting the good fight against ignorance and fear.” according to their website. 

Little Shop of Stories was presented with the Pannell Award from the Women’s National Book Association in both 2010 and 2020 which “recognizes bookstores that enhance their communities by bringing exceptional creativity to foster a love of reading.”

Charis Books & More

Another local independent bookstore nominated for this award in 2014 is Charis Books and More in Decatur. 

Charis identifies as “southern, queer, anti-racist” and as one of the 25 feminist bookstores still active in the United States. Charis hosts more than 270 events per year. They “believe in the power of specific identity-based movement spaces at specific times for specific causes” as stated in a note from 2020. 

Charis has been “celebrating radical and independent voices” for 50 years. providing an accessible space for radical and independent groups to organize. “It’s about having a space where you can come together,” said Dartricia Rollins an activist, bookseller, and assistant director at Charis Circle the non-profit programming unit of Charis.

One of the ongoing community events starting in 2023 has been community art making. The second Sunday of every month Barry Lee, a non-binary, disabled artist and writer, and Noah Grigni a disabled, transgender, artist host this free “creative kickback.” 

“All you have to do is show up,” Rollins said, noting that attendees have great conversations at these events, “sometimes personal, sometimes political.”

Atlanta Vintage Books co-owners Jon Bolgla and Bob Roarty. (file)

Atlanta Vintage Books

Open space for diverse content is also a central mission for Atlanta Vintage Books (AVB) in Brookhaven.

Owned by Jan Bolgla and Bob Roarty, the sprawling shop is home to more than 80,000 used, new, collectible, and vintage books. The duo have been accumulating literature and ephemera as well as building connections since they bought the store in 2007. 

“This was something I wasn’t expecting when I bought the store, but it’s almost like a community,” Bolgla said. Since the inventory is mostly used books, the store fosters a diversified community with its open-door policy and wide selection of specialty literature. 

“The most important thing is our customer having a good friendly place to come,” Bolgla said. The store has two floors of books with categories including radical literature, African American studies, history, LGBT, philosophy, religion, and more. Both floors have seats open to any guest who comes in. AVB is also home to Bolgla and Roarty’s cats, which roam free and mingle with guests. 

Bolgla and Roarty get calls and emails daily from people who want to sell them books or have specific requests. They’ve also become a go-to shop for the film industry. “We’ll get a call for 30 feet of children’s books,” Bolgla said.

Books that aren’t suitable or not in demand at the store are donated to local Friends of the Library groups, as well as prisons and community centers. “We make sure they get somewhere where they’re needed,” Bolgla said. 

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