Sue Cowing for Mixed-up files: We’re talking today with Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop (www.avidbookshop.com), a new and thriving book haven in Athens, Georgia.
MUF: Your shop is only three years old, which means that you opened at a time when those-who-were-supposed-to-know-but-weren’t-getting-around-the-country-much were predicting that bookstores were dying out, bound to be replaced by online sites and ebooks. So what inspired you to do this?
Janet: I was inspired by many things: my love of reading, my love of Athens, my love of people, and my love of those special spots we call “third places.” I’d experimented with lots of great jobs (teaching, tutoring, event planning, community outreach, and more), but I didn’t want to do any of them full-time. I had a major a-ha! moment when I realized that my lifelong half-dream of having my own bookstore would allow me to do a little bit of everything I loved. Once I started doing market research, I realized how sorely Athens needed a bookstore like Avid, and the community has responded in such an incredibly inspiring way.
MUF: Describe the atmosphere at Avid Bookshop.
Janet: Avid is one of my favorite places in the world. We hear customers commenting on its warmth and “good vibes,” and it’s so amazing to hear that the ambiance we aimed to create translates clearly to our customers. My booksellers and I are all people-people, so we love to greet everyone who walks in and help as much or as little as people need. Since we have no back office or receiving room, the shop can seem a little jumbled and messy at times, but we roll with it and like to think it’s part of our charm.
MUF: Athens seems to be a lively and unique community. Tell us about your customers and how you help them find their good reads. Janet: We LOVE our customers and our town so much. I’d venture to guess that at least every other person you walk by is rather creative—we have a ton of musicians, visual artists, writers, and more in our relatively small city. The first step in connecting readers with books comes up when I meet one-on-one with publisher reps and decide what titles I will stock from season to season. I think of my existing customers as well as potential customers; I look at past sales data and consider the trends that I witness in my community. Once a customer walks in (whether it’s someone we know well or have just met that day), we are able to choose from a curated collection of titles that my booksellers and I already love and/or think our customers will love. We take the time to listen to a customer’s description of his or her reading tastes and make sure we give a personalized recommendation. And then we ask that they check back in down the line to let us know what they thought of their purchases!
MUF: I love it when the recommended titles on a store’s website include books I haven’t even seen reviews of. It’s a sign to me that the booksellers read widely and curate the books. This doesn’t happen on Amazon or the chain store’s sites. How do you choose the books you carry in your store? What are some titles new or old, fiction or nonfiction, that you are recommending to middle-grade readers at the moment?
Janet: In addition to very carefully selecting books on publishers’ lists, I talk frequently with my staff not only about what books they’re loving (or not loving), but also the kinds of comments and feedback they overhear from customers in the shop. My store is very, very small, so it can be hard to say no to certain books, but I think we’ve gained a reputation for being selective without being snobby (and of course we can order any book in print and get it in within a couple of weekdays if a customer wants something specific we don’t have on the shelf). For a long while, we’ve had our reliable sales in the middle grade section: I’m thinking of how we continue to sell books in the Wildwood series (Meloy), anything Origami Yoda, the Wimpy Kid books, and more. We have helped make some books Avid bestsellers due to our love of putting them in readers’ hands: the Timmy Failure books (Pastis) and anything by Jennifer Holm (especially one of my new favorites, The Fourteenth Goldfish) come to mind right away.
MUF: You have a special Young Reader’s Book club for middle graders. What titles will they be reading next?
Janet: The next book on the list is The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm. I know that our Young Readers’ Book Club moderators (Rainey, a customer, and Will, a bookseller) have some ideas they will be nominating for the kids to vote on—we’ll have the November selection listed on our website calendar soon! MUF: Please tell our readers about Frank the FFF, and how he came to be?
Janet: Ha! Oh, Frank. We love him so. In July 2012, we participated in Candlewick’s Where’s Waldo? buy local promotion. (We’ve done it each year since, to continued and growing success.) A few months later, we still had customers asking us about Waldo and itching for the next contest to begin. We decided to create a brand new character that our local print shop would make multiple standees of—we would then distribute this character to 50+ local businesses to help promote buying locally for the holidays. Instead of selecting an existing book character, we put out a call to artists. After a blind judging from our panel, a winner was chosen: a then-11-year-old artist named Jeremy Kiran Fernandes’s “Frank” character was the winner! He has a book for a head and loves Athens ever so much. We elongated his name (we’re obsessed with words—what do you expect?) and he became Frank, the Fabulous Fiction Fan. The effort was a BLAST but also rather exhausting, so we didn’t do the promotion during the 2013 holidays. Jury’s still out on whether Frank will make a repeat performance this year.
MUF: Do you have any events coming up that are of special interest to middle-graders?
Janet: Apart from our Young Readers’ Book Club meeting in October, we don’t have anything middle-grade-specific on the list at the moment. We have had some stellar events this school year already, though, introducing hundreds of kids to Random House authors Lou Anders (Frostborn) and Jennifer Holm at their schools and at the bookshop. Those events were very well received and the middle grade readers loved the chance to meet these authors. MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit Avid Bookshop, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal? And if they could stay awhile, are there other places and activities around Athens they shouldn’t miss? Janet: There’s so much to do in our neck of the woods! Avid Bookshop is a few blocks outside of downtown proper on the lovely Prince Avenue. You could stroll two doors down to the Daily Co-op, a member-owned grocery story that is famous in the kid crowd for their bulk selection of candy and snacks. (You can grab a sandwich or salad from their deli department as well.) A few blocks in the other direction is a complex called The Bottleworks, where families can enjoy food and drink from any number of locally-owned restaurants/cafes. For families with more time in Athens (and a car), I recommend a few different things off the top of my head: a) A visit to Bear Hollow, the small zoo at Memorial Park; b) A kids’ craft class at Treehouse Kid & Craft; c) Weekday story time at the Athens-Clarke County Library; d) Pizza and sandbox playing at Ted’s Most Best, a local joint known for its pizza and kid-friendly atmosphere.
MUF: Thanks Janet, for taking time to describe your delightful shop to us. Readers, have any of you had the pleasure of shopping here, or are you now tempted to treat yourself to a visit? If so, please chime in on the comments and let these folks know.
Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog, Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, Harper-Collins UK 2014.