Despite the convenience of shopping online or downloading an eBook to your Kindle or Nook, nothing can replace the experience of browsing in a brick and mortar bookstore. Atlanta Vintage Books (AVB) in Chamblee has been banking on bibliophiles need for the tangible for the past 25 years, and business is thriving.
Atlanta’s chain and independent bookstores have taken a hit over the last decade as eBooks and big box stores have sapped away the average reader looking for lower prices and the ease of shopping from a computer or smartphone. Last year’s closing of Borders Books locations and the loss of landmark gay and lesbian bookstore Outwrite shook up the literary community, leaving Barnes & Noble and a handful of indies to carry on.
AVB owners Bob Roarty and Jan Bolgla know they are lucky. The husband and wife team bought the store on Clairmont Road nearly seven years ago from the original owners after seeing a “for sale” ad in the newspaper. The couple was burned out from their careers – Roarty in commercial printing and Bolgla in graphic design – and they both loved books. “It seemed like a no-brainer,” Roarty said.
The shop covers 7,000 square feet and has roughly 75,000 books for sale. While upstairs is saved for more vintage and rare books, the huge downstairs has contemporary hardbacks and paperbacks selling for $2 to $4. The display cases are treasure troves of classic books, including first editions of Catcher in the Rye, Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novels and a copy of Gone With the Wind autographed by Margaret Mitchell.
“People come in the shop and find books they’ve been searching for their whole lives,” Bolgla said. “You can see the excitement and emotion. That’s what makes coming to work here every day so much fun.”
Roarty said AVB is filling a niche that the chains and big box stores are not: supplying readers with older titles that aren’t readily available or have gone out of print. “Nonfiction is very popular in the shop right now,” he said. “History, military, art, photography, religion, esoteric and metaphysical have been big sellers. We’re always on the hunt for more.”
Roarty said sci-fi, fantasy and horror novels are also in demand, mainly because fans of those genres tend to hold onto their books. He said that books some people consider out of date are a prized find for some collectors.
The couple regularly goes to estate sales and gets calls from people who are downsizing and need to get rid of their book collections. Bolgla said AVB’s clientele regularly calls in or stops by the shop to see what has come in.
“We have incredibly loyal customers,” Bolgla commented. “Some come in every day to grab a cup of coffee, browse and talk books.”
Roarty agreed, likening AVB to the fictional bar in the sitcom Cheers: “People really do want to go where everybody knows there name and we are on a first name basis with many of our customers.”
AVB’s move to differentiate itself from other new and used bookstores and embracing Amazon has also helped the store navigate difficult times. “We sell our rare and used books at Amazon and on our own website,” Roarty said. “Many people believe that Amazon is evil, but physical bookstores and Amazon can co-exist.”
Bolgla said AVB has also used online deal sites like Living Social and Scoutmob to bring a “new generation” of booklovers to the shop. AVB has also made fans of parents with young children by often giving a kid a free book.
AVB is also hosting a regular open mic night, which Bolgla likens to the old Paris literary salons once held by Gertrude Stein. The open mic is held the third Saturday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. and brings in writers of all ages who want to try out their latest work in front of an attentive audience. “It’s a casual evening and an audience that is willing to listen to your work with no pressure or expectations,” Bolgla said.
Roarty said one dream he’s hoping to make reality in the near future is having AVB open late on the weekends. “I‘d like to be open until midnight or 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays,” he said, harkening back to the days of the much-missed Oxford Bookstores in Buckhead and Peachtree Battle that regularly kept late hours for literary night owls.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a bookstore with a cat – or five. Callie, Frieda, Mickey, Boo and Little Boo can often be found lounging on the display cases or prowling around the shelves. Roarty and Bolgla also work with other businesses in the neighborhood to feed stray cats and always keep a bowl of food or water outside.
With more books coming in regularly and collectors looking for those elusive treasures, Bolgla said her and Roarty’s passion for the shop grows every day. “We are passionate about books and we love to talk to people about books,” she said. “When you wake up every morning excited to come to work, then you know you’ve found your calling.”
Atlanta Vintage Books is located at 3660 Clairmont Road. For more information visit atlantavintagebooks.com or call (770) 457-2919.