Two Atlanta film pros pivot during strikes to curate a bookstore

Their backgrounds in set decorating and overseeing budgets equipped them with skills to curate a bookstore
(L-R) Tyler Smith, holding Lennon, 2, and Grace Smith, pushing River, 5 months, walk into the building that will house their new bookstore in Chamblee on Friday, May 31, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)



(L-R) Tyler Smith, holding Lennon, 2, and Grace Smith, pushing River, 5 months, walk into the building that will house their new bookstore in Chamblee on Friday, May 31, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)

In the throes of last year’s writer and actor strikes, Tyler and Grace Smith, two Atlanta film industry professionals, started considering their options.

Work had dried up, Grace was pregnant with her second child and the couple was spending their savings with no end in sight to the strikes. The unpredictability of the industry loomed like a specter— it was possible the industry would face another work stoppage as the behind-the-scenes crew unions entered their contract negotiations, and artificial intelligence was already starting to replace jobs.

So the Smiths pivoted. They threw themselves into starting their first business, one that allowed them to use the skills they’ve developed from working in the film industry for over a decade: a bookshop in Chamblee.

“The point is that there’s so many things we can’t control,” said Tyler Smith, a line producer. “So we decided to do something we could.”

Come September, the Smiths will open Wild Aster Books on Chamblee Dunwoody Way. Though the storefront is in its early stages of construction, the couple envisions creating a kid-friendly environment with spaces for customers to linger, like tables in the back for reading, and a stage for events at the back of the store, from book signings to children’s puppet shows. The store will sell books for all ages.

This is an experience many of their favorite bookstores don’t provide, Tyler Smith said, which tend to just focus on selling books, rather than creating a community.

“There’s this idea of the third spot,” Grace Smith said. “You have your work, you have your home, and the third spot where you hang out. That’s what we want this bookstore to be for readers and people with families. Especially after COVID, people are eager for that type of environment.”

Finding another outlet

The Smiths are among thousands of film industry workers who had to pivot during last year’s Hollywood labor disputes, which lasted from May to November, and largely suspended production across the United States. It was the first time in 60 years the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA led strikes simultaneously. Both were pushing for increased residual payments from streaming services and protections against artificial intelligence.

Though crew members are not represented by the WGA or SAG-AFTRA, the work stoppage impacted them, too. Bob Beitcher, the president and CEO of the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which provides financial assistance to in-need industry workers, called them “the forgotten casualties” of the strikes in an open letter last year.

To pay the bills, some began bartending or serving at restaurants. Others sought work in non-union projects, exited the industry entirely, or, like the Smiths, dipped into their savings to stay afloat.

Grace Smith speaks to carpenter Mayur Deshmukh in the building that will house Smith and her husband’s new  bookstore in Chamblee on May 31, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)


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“The strikes resolved late last year but production hasn’t ramped up as quickly as many had anticipated, leaving many still without work.

The Smiths do not plan on leaving the film industry entirely. The bookstore is providing them a reprieve from the standard of working 12 hours a day during a production, which is a demanding schedule for professionals with children. It’s also giving them an outlet as the industry faces headwinds that could diminish production further, such as studios and streamers spending less on content or offshoring production to save costs.

“It’s hard. We have kids, and you want to be able to feel like your foundations are here,” Tyler Smith said. “That’s why we want to open the store. It’s something we can control, versus the every-three-year-contract negotiation that could blow up.”

‘Chamblee needs some books’

Both of their backgrounds have equipped them with the tools to curate a bookstore.

Grace Smith is using her background in art direction and worldbuilding to design the space, which will pull inspiration from Diagon Alley, the fictional shopping district in Harry Potter, and the Victorian attic space in Little Women.

Tyler Smith, who oversees the budget and logistics of productions, worked on the business plan. He built the budget using the same software as the projects he’s helped produce.

One of the reasons why they chose Chamblee as a location unfolds like the setup to a good joke: two parents walk into a bar – er – neighborhood restaurant, next to an empty commercial space.

“There were eight strollers and a take-a-book, leave-a-book section in the back that was completely empty. And there were two kids fighting over a ripped cover of one,” Tyler Smith said. “We said, yeah, Chamblee needs some books.”

Finding the right space was a lengthier process than the Smiths anticipated. The landlord on the first space they were eyeing in Chamblee backed out before they could sign their lease, which set their planning process several months back.

The couple instead landed on a storefront in a building over a half-century old that once housed a doctor’s office. As if it were kismet, the Smiths were told that any baby born in Chamblee for several decades was born in that building, making it a fitting home for a bookstore with an emphasis on kids’ programming.