Last year, when coworking space Switchyards announced it was opening a “Deep Focus and Work Library” at its Decatur location, describing the concept as “the quietest room in town” and “a gym for the mind”—the reception was cold. The $100 monthly membership fee made the concept a bit disconnected – plus, there are no books.
The misnomer prompted a rebuke from the website literary center: “Don’t call your members-only coworking space a library.” It’s particularly inappropriate, says Katie Mitchell, founder of Good ATL Books, while there are veritable book deserts, geographical areas where reading material, whether loaned or purchased, is difficult to obtain. Mitchell launched her mobile and pop-up book company in 2019 to directly address these challenges.
According to the American Booksellers Association, between 2020 and 2021, more than 80 bookstores closed nationwide, or nearly two a week. In the Atlanta area, that number included the beloved boutique of Lawrenceville Books by the Pound, a victim of the first summer of the pandemic. But bookstores are rallying and pivots, including curbside pickups, mobile book sales and virtual book chats instead of in-person signings, have become commonplace at local stores like a cappella books, Charis books and moreand Little story shop.
Lucian books and wineKatie Barringer, who once wondered why a “huge, global city like Atlanta doesn’t have a book culture,” believes the city is finally taking off with the recent number of bookstores opening or pivoting with innovative concepts. Here are five of them:
44th and 3rd bookseller
Like the BeltLine, the 44th and 3rd Booksellers began as a master’s thesis. “I wrote my thesis on the issues and challenges facing independent bookstores nationwide, and found that despite these challenges, community members chose to support local bookstores, by especially when it comes to black-owned bookstores,” says Cheryl Lee, who alongside her husband, Warren, and daughter, Allyce, first opened 44th and 3rd at Little Five Points in 2017. before moving in 2020 to the mixed-use Entra West End development. The namesake is a nod to the 44th President of the United States and the shop’s three focuses: “Black Lives Matter, Literature, and Legacy.”
Lucian books and wine
After closing his first boutique, Cover Books, and taking an inspirational jaunt to London in 2018, Barringer and Jordan Smelt, a sommelier, came up with the idea of merging their three loves: books, wine and London. Lucian – which opened in Buckhead in June 2021 with the tagline “Beautiful Books, Smart Wine and Thoughtful Cooking” – offers a wine-pairing dinner menu for book browsers. Books aren’t just there as a decorative backdrop for meals, they’re meant to be touched, leafed through, and bought. “There is 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,” explains Barringer. “A lot of times people finish their meal and walk straight to a specific book they’ve been looking at for hours and say, I finally had to come see it.”
For Keeps Library
Rosa Duffy has taken her knack for unearthing rare and out-of-print literary works beyond the For Keeps bookstore, the Auburn Avenue brick and mortar for which she is known. She recently teamed up with online community library Saint Heron, founded by singer Solange Knowles, to curate her first collection, or “season,” which included titles such as Adrian Piper’s Reflections 1967-1987, La Tete by Julianna Free and Octavia E. Butler. science fiction novel Clay’s Ark. For 45 days, users are invited to view an item from the list of hard-to-find novels, art anthologies, poetry collections, zines, and classic archival texts, and receive materials to ship the book backward. “The whole exchange is based on a system of honor and trust,” explains Duffy. “It’s open to the public and completely free.”
Virginia Highland Books
Although Sandra Huff’s bookstore opened last June, it’s already established itself as a Virginia-Highland staple, all thanks, Huff says, to space, location and people. The building, which dates from 1900, is “loaded with character”, she says. “It has old wooden 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 support a different organization,” she says. “For example, we 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 to incarcerated people.”
Good ATL Books
When Katie Mitchell and her mother, Katherine Mitchell, launched Good Books ATL in 2019, they knew they wanted the blacklight-focused concept to be accessible and mobile. Customers can browse books on their website or at pop-ups around town, and collaborate with Katie on “custom curations” (minimum budget $50). “It’s basically a personal shopping experience based on their interests and budget,” says Katie. “It helps customers create a personal library that suits their personality.” The online concept suits the mother-daughter duo perfectly, for now. “It used to be that you had to have all that money for a brick and mortar location and to run [advertising] spots on TV and in the newspapers, and that’s not the case anymore,” Katie explains. “We started on Instagram, and that was it.”
This article originally appeared in our March 2022 issue.