Interview with a Bookstore: Avid Bookshop
Want more friends? Open Up a Bookstore
Avid Bookshop opened in October 2011, two years after its website launched and four years after founder and current owner Janet Geddis announced her plans to open a bookshop in Athens. At the time, Athens lacked a general interest, independent bookstore that focused on community engagement, new books, events, and book clubs, among the other good things bookstores bring. Athens is a creative college town, and Janet knew that its community could support the independent bookstore she dreamed of opening. Janet explains that creating and sustaining Avid Bookshop has been a labor of love—love for books, for her customers, for her community, and for her bookselling team. She is grateful that—modest as they are—paychecks do, indeed, exist. Thanks to tremendous support from the local community as well as the wider community of readers all over the world, Avid Bookshop’s business is doing well.
What's your favorite section of the store?
I stared at this question for a full three minutes before even attempting to formulate an answer. Personally, I read literary fiction more than anything else, and many of my staff members would probably agree with that. Our fiction section is the biggest in the store (and our strongest selling section). That said, I have a soft spot for every single part of the shop—maybe that’s a personal thing, or maybe that’s what happens when you dream for years of opening a bookstore and finally get a chance to build each section from scratch. I’m quite fond of even the smallest sections of our shop. Lately I’ve also been especially enamored of our kids’ room, as we installed some lovely new lighting.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
I would add some waist-high tables stacked high with staff recommendations. I’d have a dedicated event space that could also be used for book displays (we’d keep our shelves on wheels for this purpose). While I still am not eager to run a coffee shop, I’d at least bring back coffee and tea by the cup (a service we had to discontinue due to lack of space) as well as more comfy seating.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
It’s hard to give an answer to this, namely because we are actual, real-life buddies with tons of bookstores who are doing so many incredible things. I think a lot of indies do an exquisite job of being just the right bookshop for their particular community. One thing I am particularly proud of (and hope other store owners can boast as well) is my incredible group of booksellers. Every single person who works for Avid Bookshop is smart, capable, friendly, inventive, creative, thoughtful, and book-obsessed. Their enthusiasm pours into their jobs each day, and the customers really respond to that. As their boss, I try to foster a sense of family here while encouraging them to take risks and try out different things (displays, book clubs, event pitches, you name it) so they can really play a meaningful role in the store’s growth and success.
Who's your favorite regular?
In a previous interview, I have confessed that we really adore our customers. If you were a fly on the wall during the moment after a customer leaves and the store is empty again, you’d likely hear the booksellers saying to each other, “I love her,” “I love him,” “They’re the best,” or something like that. We have an eclectic group of customers, including a really large core group of regulars who delight us just by walking in to say hi. One customer who stands out is Crazy Dave, a gentleman who has lived in Athens for seven or so decades and has lots of good stories to tell. He is an older Southern white man who deliberately looks to us to recommend books by authors of color, and once he finds something he loves, he’ll buy a stack and give out copies to strangers and friends alike. We delight in his visits.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
This question gave me pause. There are lots of crazy things that happen day to day, but we roll with them (and don’t share the stories outside of the Avid family in consideration of making a customer feel like she’s turned into an anecdote—even when the anecdote is really quite entertaining!). Just today I was looking through videos on my computer and unearthed a forgotten memory: when a bat that had been living in our neighbor’s attic escaped into the shop and we had to find a way to get it out. My bookseller at the time was quite averse to bats (to put it mildly) and ran out of the shop and called me saying she simply couldn’t go back in there. Within thirty minutes, the rest of my employees and I were at the shop trying to problem solve with a bucket, a broom, some towels, and lots of shrieking. In the end, the bat lived and everyone’s nerves calmed, but it was exciting and funny. Those were the very early Avid days where we could go a long stretch without having any customers come in, so we were in luck with the timing of the bat’s visit.
We’ve also dealt with power outages (I held a “BYOFlashlight” party and wrote down sales with pen and paper), an overflowing toilet (this has happened more times than I like to count, though a big plumbing repair mostly solved it), a leaking ceiling in the middle of the Christmas rush (my dad put a bucket up to catch the drips before too many books were damaged), events where books didn’t arrive in time, and more.
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta and my parents took us to bookstores very frequently. I made a lot of visits to the now-defunct Oxford Books (and Oxford, Too) in Buckhead, but one of my most salient bookstore memories was going to the Brentano’s regularly to pick up the latest installment of the Sweet Valley Twins series. I read so much as a kid, and I like to gently tell my parent customers at Avid—ones who are worried that their kids aren’t reading the “good” stuff—that even though I read a lot of kids’ books that didn’t even approach the category of “literature,” I still turned out okay.
If you weren’t running or working at a bookstore, what would you be doing?
It’s really hard for me to say what I’d be doing if I hadn’t founded Avid Bookshop. I am so fulfilled and happy at work, and it’s difficult to imagine any other profession where I’d feel so content. Before opening the shop, I was a professional copy editor for many years, and I also worked part-time as a tutor/teacher and a nanny. I can’t imagine I’d still be in any of those careers, though—I was good at them, but my enthusiasm had definitely begun to wane. Perhaps I’d be a writer (which I still do part time, come to think of it—I’m a health essayist and migraine patient advocate). In any case, I would guess that I’d have to be an entrepreneur who got to work with books somehow. Honestly, I shudder to think of a world where I couldn’t be at the helm at Avid!
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
I never expected to befriend and love so many new people. When Avid’s storefront opened, I was 31—I already had my family and my chosen family (including my then-boyfriend, who’s now my husband). I was fortunate to have a great group of friends and didn’t really look to Avid to help find more people to love. Imagine the joy I’ve felt in realizing I was helping to create a new family of employees and customers and book industry friends, people who love to talk about reading and books and community and creativity as much as I do. I wasn’t looking to expand my circle, but I really have and am so grateful to know and love so many people.
SLIDESHOW: Avid Bookshop Staff Recommendations
Photo credit: Shannon Adams.