Sunday Conversation with Frank Reiss

Book store owner flourishes in a resurgent of the print page

The story of A Cappella Books should have ended very badly. If the recession didn’t kill the little bookstore on an isolated corner in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood, then the big boy bookstores should have. Instead, on Dec. 5, A Cappella will celebrate its 25th anniversary with an event at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, followed by more celebration at Manuel’s Tavern. To find out how the little-bookstore-that-could actually did it, the AJC talked to founder and owner Frank Reiss who remains optimistic about the future of publishing, books, Atlanta readers and his business.

Q: What is it like owning a bookstore in the age of Amazon?

A: I work all the time. We are actually enjoying a very good stretch. I think one factor is that a lot of people know about this whole Amazon and Hachette war that got so much publicity this year. I think people are starting to question how good an idea it is for any one entity like Amazon to be so big and powerful and are realizing that it is important to keep businesses like ours going.

Q: Did you always want to own a bookstore?

A: I grew up in Atlanta and went to UGA and, in the 1980s, wound up in San Francisco thinking I was going to grad school. I got a job in a used bookstore and that seemed better than grad school. In 1989, I decided I was ready to open A Cappella.

Q: What is the store’s niche?

A: The best way to put it is that our store is for people who really, really live for books. Books are the central thing in their lives. Our walls are crammed with books.

Q: How do you make money?

A: We love our store and our customers and we have our fair share of customers. The real business that allows A Cappella to survive is not what goes on in this tiny little store. We are always out and about selling books. We are the official bookseller for the book festival at the Marcus Jewish Community Center. For 19 days this month, we set up shop there and sold books for the 40 plus authors who appeared. We do events like that at the Carter Center, SCAD, Manuel’s Tavern. We are all over the place, doing all kinds of things, wherever books come into play.

Q: You meet so many authors. Are you ever starstruck?

A: Rarely. This month, I met an author that I am in such awe of that I was kind of starstruck. It was Wendell Berry.

Q: What’s the Atlanta reading landscape like?

A: There is a strong and growing community of people who seriously care about reading and writing. I have seen it become more sophisticated in the 25 years I have been here. I think people here read a lot and a whole range of stuff.

Q: What is your favorite genre?

A: Like most middle age men, I read more nonfiction than fiction. I love history but kind of quirky takes on ways to learn history. One of my favorites is a book by writer Mike Davis called “City of Quartz.” It is a panoramic look at Los Angeles through film, architecture, politics.

Q: Do you feel like a survivor?

A: I probably do consciously feel that way. It does seem that we have weathered a pretty significant storm over the past decade. I don’t think it’s anything I deserve a medal for but it would have been very easy to give up and to change course. It may have even been the more sensible thing to do. I really love doing what I do and for whatever reason, I stuck with it. I suspect the next decade won’t be quite as difficult. But who knows?