Longtime independent Cobb bookstore to gain new ownership

The Book Worm bookstore in downtown Powder Springs has been a familiar community hub for more than a decade. A Cobb County resident who wants to take over the business hopes to keep it that way.

Julia Davis, a children’s book author who resides in Austell, is in the process of buying the business from owner Susan Smelser, who wants to retire.

Davis said she has always wanted to own a bookstore. She happened upon The Book Worm in February and said she was immediately reminded of Shakespeare and Company, a famous independent bookstore in Paris.

Davis, a New York native who has lived in Austell for about 14 years, struck up a conversation with Smelser and told her about her long-running dream. Smelser told Davis about her about her desire to sell and things moved quickly after that, Davis said. The two met the next day and forged a plan.

“Clearly, there was a reason for me to walk in that day,” Davis said.

The author said she does not plan to change much because she enjoys the bookstore’s current “energy,” though she may add a coffee bar.

“I think that she has a great thing going,” she said of Smelser’s organization of the store. “I don’t think that’s something that needs to be disrupted.”

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If the deal goes through, it would be a change in the type of ownership Smelser wanted for the bookstore. She originally wanted to transform the business into a cooperative owned by shareholders. Smelser said people made about $70,000 in pledges, but more than half did not go through with buying shares. Everyone was rooting for The Book Worm to succeed, but many could not afford to spend $500 to purchase a share, Smelser said.

“They supported us by shopping, and we knew they’d keep coming back, no matter who owned the store,” she said.

Smelser said she and Davis are working diligently to close the deal, but the COVID-19 pandemic “has made it difficult to get anything done financially.” The bookstore is currently under contract, and Smelser said she hopes she and Davis will be able to close the deal soon.

“We are both jumping for joy to make this happen,” she said.

Sales are down about 75% due to the pandemic, Smelser said. The store is closed to the public, but the business is handling online orders. Items can either be shipped or reserved for curbside pickup, Smelser said.

Customers can call the store at (770) 439-2029 or email shopthebookwormpowdersprings@gmail.com to place orders for pickup or delivery.

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Before coming to Georgia, Davis worked for 15 years as a paralegal and managing law firms. She is the author of the “I Love Me” children’s book series. The series’ main character is modeled after her 11-year-old niece, Davis said. The series includes picture books, activity books and motivation cards.

Davis is a senior administrative assistant for a sales team at a large local corporation, which she said has been “very supportive” of her plans. She has two adult children.

Davis said it’s imperative that The Book Worm remains open for customers supporting independent bookstores, despite the threat they face from giant retailers and online powerhouses such as Amazon.

“Everyone seems happy that the bookstore is going to stay,” she said.

One of those residents is Randy Hardy, a member of the city’s Downtown Development Authority. His son, Jack, has future plans to open Rooted Trading Company in the site next to The Book Worm that formerly housed the Country Store. The elder Hardy said he’s glad to hear the bookstore will remain part of the city’s business community. He also said Smelser has been successful because she’s adapted to the growth in customers ordering books online.

“I think it’s magnificent that she’s moved it from just being a bookstore to an online platform where she can sell across the nation,” he said. “It’s just a little bookstore in Powder Springs, but it’s not limited to Powder Springs.”

Smelser said she will help in the transition, but is looking forward to visiting friends and family members she hasn’t seen in years. The Book Worm has a special place in the hearts of Powder Springs residents, she said, because they enjoy being able to stumble upon their next great read in a space that fees like home.

“The touch and feel of a book is valuable,” she said. “Yes, I can get an e-book reader, but I want to touch and feel and smell my book.”

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