A beloved local bookstore in Athens, GA
There’s something about Avid Bookshop that makes me think of a charming Britcom. Standing in the quaint, historical building on Athens’ historical Prince Avenue, among rows of artfully placed books, the mid-day sun streaming brightly through the rounded windows, I half expect a blustering, quirky neighbor with a posh-but-flustered lilt to come barreling in, amid a flood of papers and manuscripts, the door slamming a little too hard behind him. He’ll take up residence in one of the corners, at home among the card-stock prints, magnets and coffee, and begin banging on the vintage typewriter, writing a whodunit to rival Agatha Christie, only popping up his head now and again to say something clever and a little biting, followed by a polite, clipped laugh track.
I have no idea where this fantasy comes from. In actuality, Avid Bookshop, located at 493 Prince Avenue, Athens, GA, just down the way from the infamous Daily Co-Op, and right beside historic Fire Hall #2, is as uniquely Southern as it gets. The bookstore, just shy of a decade old, is one of our storied town’s most beloved local businesses. With its loyal fanbase of dedicated readers and patrons, Avid has enjoyed immense success over the years; so much so, they opened a second location in popular Five Points a few years ago to meet customer demand.
Avid Bookshop opened the Prince Avenue store – its first, original location – in 2011. The business, buoyed by the vision of owner Janet Geddis (and in part, crowdfunded by locals who thirsted for another indie bookstore, after the sad demise of everyone’s favorite newstand, Barnett’s, in 2008), started out small, with just seven shelves. Housed in the former Athens Fire Station, the store and it’s event room next door (tied into the Athens Heritage Foundation) still has the open, airy energy of it’s historical past – the building itself seems to almost beckon, to say, “come in.”
Fire Hall #2 was built in 1901, and the polished, pleasantly-creaking wood floors and large, open windows tell the tale of a time gone by. According to a smiling employee, “you can almost still smell the firehouse,” which, for me, conjured up the smell of motor oil, rumbling engines, and cigar smoke (that’s just the writer in me projecting; I honestly have no idea what a firehouse smells like). The building was also briefly home to a hair salon, but it wasn’t until Avid moved in that the building once again came into its own. It didn’t take long for Avid Bookshop to take off running; with it’s artistic, creative local flair, emphasis on supporting fellow local businesses, and support of local authors and artists, Avid quickly gained a huge following. With readers and industry professionals alike beginning to sour on huge retail outlets like Amazon and Walmart, Avid easily stepped in to deliver what customers yearned for: a quirky local store with amazing books and engagement with the local scene. While I was there, snapping photos, several customers came in to browse, each of them greeted warmly, most of them greeted by name.
In addition to peddling books – bestsellers, children’s books, local literature and everything in between – Avid sells writing accessories, greeting cards, art, coffee and more. They host a wide variety of events every single week: book signings and launches for local authors (as well as notable celebrity authors such as David Sedaris and Chelsea Clinton, to name a couple); storytime and other child-friendly events (they recently took part in a nationwide Where’s Waldo event); the store also takes part in socially conscious activities, events and movements – they are active in local Pride events, Bookstores Without Borders, and more. I once accompanied my son to a huge Pokemon Go event at Avid; he had a ball searching for illusive Poke-whatevers while I thumbed through a David Bowie-themed coloring book that I’m 100% certain I never would have found at any other bookstore. For that alone, they get an A+ in my book!
The store’s Five Points location – which, built in the 1920s, enjoys its own historical legacy and clientele – is located at 1662 Lumpkin Street, Athens, GA, right beside Condor Chocolates (do go and have a latte and a cloud boulder after you buy your books). The Five Points store boasts a wider selection of genre-based literature, including larger Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical and Romance sections. I was pleased to discover this, as so many indie bookstores (rightly) face criticism for not considering Romance a legitimate genre. There’s also an amazing kids’ section, complete with a huge wooden boat with twinkling electric-blue lights that my son immediately set up as his second home (seriously, I had to force him to leave). It’s a homey space, the sturdy old building clean and every bit as inviting as the signature vintage typewriters that grace both locations. I’m still picturing that silly, charming neighbor pecking away at the keys, writing the Next Great Novel.
The employees at Avid – all of them friendly and eager to please – are approachable and knowledgeable. They are always on hand to recommend their favorite novels to you, to participate in the myriad events that Avid hosts, and talk up the great reads that grace their shelves. When I went into Avid last week to take photos for this article, I was greeted with a wide smile. “You wrote Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree! I loved that book!” Reader, I must confess that made my day. Not to sound trite, but the staff at Avid love their store, love their job, love the books, and it shows. Just a cursory glance at their glossy, inviting Instagram page will prove it. It’s a haven, a book-lovers paradise.
When I got my publishing deal, and I began to think about things like book launches and signings, Avid was my first choice – I knew that my very first signing for my debut novel would have to be here. There simply was no other option. As a life-long Georgian, born and raised just outside of Athens, local culture is hugely important to me, and those reciprocal relationships between local indie businesses and their clientele are the lifeblood of creatives and business owners alike. There’s something about loving your home, sharing that love by supporting its art and the artists behind it, and championing the entrepreneurs that make it possible. In the era of the chain-store, and shopping with a click, it can be hard for local businesses to stay afloat, especially when many of these large retail outlets undercut so extensively. It’s hard out there; and we all know that not everyone can afford to always shop local. But when you can, do. Just that bit of support can make all the difference in helping a local business thrive. Plus, it just makes you feel good.
As I was outside, cursing myself for trying to take a photo of a shopfront in the midday sun (the worst light ever), it occurred to me that my own O.T. Lawrence and Sivvy Hargrove might have passed by this historic shopfront in their old beat-up truck, on their way back to Five Forks, Georgia. It’s the type of building O.T. Lawrence would appreciate – beautiful without being boastful; sturdy and built to last.
Living in Athens means being spoiled for choice when it comes to historical buildings and cool places to visit. From the old Farmer’s Hardware building to the “R.E.M” steeple; from the beloved Georgia Theatre that rose from the ashes to the celebrated Morton Theatre where I once saw Alice Walker speak; from the double-barreled cannon to the Tree that Owns Itself – any tourist would find a lot to marvel over. I humbly suggest popping into Avid Bookshop the next time you’re exploring our town. The books are the main draw, of course, but the atmosphere of the place alone makes it well worth the visit, and the main reason why Avid is named among the “Best of Athens” almost every year. I’ve been a patron of Avid’s for years, and I’m super proud that next month, I’ll not only be a customer, but an author whose book graces their storied shelves.
Check out Avid online to peruse their selection, buy a book, or to find out more about my signing and other local events, at www.avidbookshop.com. You can also find out more about the shop and their upcoming events on Avid’s Facebook Page (Facebook.com/AvidBookshop).
Join Lillah Lawson at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA, for the launch event of her lush work of historical fiction, Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree, that has been hailed as “a love letter to the resilient people of Georgia.” We encourage you to purchase a copy of the book from Avid Bookshop (help support indie bookstores!) and get it signed by the author!
Lillah Lawson lives in North Georgia—not far from Five Forks—with her husband and son, a silly dog and two slightly evil cats. When she’s not writing, you can find her baking, playing bass, marathoning ’80s sitcoms, or out on her bike. She is currently working on another historical
fiction novel, set in the late 1960s.