Atlanta’s used bookstores preserve history, enrich communities

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Jan Keith has done plenty of reading throughout her 32 years in Inman Park. She is part of book clubs, loves historical fiction, has dozens of used books and frequents the neighborhood’s A Cappella Books. The bookstore, with a large used book selection, mirrors the changing neighborhood, Keith said, with surprises around every corner.

Like Inman Park, she analogizes, “the floors and walls are uneven but solid... The used books are being given a new life. The actual building has been rescued, restored and renovated.”

As the few used books stores left in Atlanta continue to weather the pandemic, owners and clients feel they serve as lifelines for their communities now more than ever, preserving history while supporting local arts and culture initiatives.

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A Cappella started out in Little Five Points in 1989 but moved to Inman Park in 2012, with a new books showroom and two rooms for used and collectible books. In addition to used classics, science fiction and jazz titles, the store has rarer items like a first U.S. edition of James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake,” signed books by John Lewis and an advance reading copy of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” signed twice by the author. Many books are from customers — last month the store received dozens of ancient history books from a former high school Latin teacher.

“In one fell swoop, you can all of a sudden have a really nice collection of, for instance, architecture books or a collection of ancient history books,” said owner Frank Reiss.

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The store was closed for over a year during the pandemic, though Reiss shifted to curbside pickup and home delivery. Now, business is better than ever following the store’s recent expansion.

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Newer bookstores like Bookish in East Atlanta, opened by Kendra Gayle Lee in 2019, are also keeping the used book scene alive. Bookish, which began with only used books, expanded to newer diverse reads focusing on social justice, particularly from authors of color and neurodivergent authors. Lee said her used book offerings, some of which she thrifted, aren’t rare but are carefully curated; readers are more pulled to used copies of Obama’s reading list books or those tied to current events than vintage selections.

“It’s really important to me that when people walk in the store, they see themselves reflected on our shelves,” Lee said.

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Customers converse about everything from Georgia history to mysticism at Atlanta Vintage Books, which opened in 1980 and has a selection of over 80,000 titles appealing to both collectors searching for a rare $500 book and readers looking for a $2 bargain. Jan Bolgla and Bob Roarty, who bough the store in 2007, kept most of the original books including first edition Hemingway and Steinbeck classics, every edition of Time magazine and vintage children’s books.

“When we first started out, it was right when the Kindle was coming out and people thought we were crazy to buy a bookstore,” said Bolgla. “But we just had faith in books that they were not gonna go away.”

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Staff at Atlanta Vintage Books helped build sections like metaphysics and religion, as well as a small radical literature corner. The store recently got its hands on a huge collection of rare horror books, and years ago, historian Eugene Genovese donated about 15,000 books. The store also has collectibles from publishers like the Folio Society and Franklin Library, as well as antiquarian books from the 1700s.

“We don’t want to just have anything in here, even though we have a lot of space and a lot of bookshelves,” Bolgla said. “We want to have books that we feel are important to people.”

Though Charles Robinson, who owns Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, has tried shifting sentiment surrounding used bookstores. The family business began 18 years ago and sells new, used and vintage books that are a “snapshot of the community.” But some people, he says, view used bookstores as untidy and unorganized.

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To counter this, inventory is computerized, and the bookstore has shifted over the years to selling new books, which has helped bring in authors like Neil Gaiman to give talks.

“You really cannot replicate the experience of coming to a bookstore, walking the shelves, taking a look at things and seeing something that you’ve never even thought of before,” Robinson said.

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Tim Lee, who calls himself a “book whisperer,” seems to always know where to find the used book he wants. That hunch brings him to Eagle Eye Book Shop and others like Book Nook in Decatur to add to his collection of over 5,000 books. Lee, who reads five books a week and has a spreadsheet labeling every book he owns, said he thrives on the sense of community built at used book stores.

“They’re all passionate about books and you want them to succeed,” Lee said. “It’s nice to build those relationships that you don’t get if you go to a big box store.”


A Cappella Books. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-6 p.m. Sundays. 208 Haralson Ave NE, Atlanta. 404-681-5128. acappellabooks.com

Atlanta Vintage Books. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. 3660 Clairmont Road, Atlanta. 770-457-2919, atlantavintagebooks.com

Book Nook. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. 3073 N. Druid Hills Road, Decatur. 404-633-1342, booknookbookstoredecaturga.com

Bookish Atlanta. Noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays; 1-6 p.m. Wednesdays; noon-6 p.m. Thursdays; noon-5 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Saturdays; 1-5 p.m. Sundays. 1188 Glenwood Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-496-8722. bookishatl.com

Eagle Eye Book Shop. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-6 p.m. Sundays. 2076 N. Decatur Road, Decatur. 404-486-0307, eagleeyebooks.com

For Keeps Books. Noon-5 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays. 171 Auburn Ave. NE, Atlanta. forkeepsbooks.com

Half-Price Books. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays. 2615 N. Decatur Rd, Decatur. 404-377-4593. hpb.com/125

Sonny Ideker Antiquarian Bookseller. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-6 p.m. Sundays. 700 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell. 770-853-3311, sonnyideker.weebly.com