There’s a new bookstore in Athens, Georgia, with a different kind of business model. After four years of planning, learning, getting financing in place and finding the perfect location at 493 Prince Avenue, Janet Geddis opened Avid Bookshop this month. Last Friday night’s grand opening celebration crowded customers into tight corners and out the doors into the streets like a festival. Listen to this podcast of True South Radio to hear my friends Neil Priest and Mary Whitehead interview Janet Geddis about the gala event.

Janet Geddis did her research. She learned from other indie bookstores that if the community didn’t get invested in “their” bookstore, it would not thrive. Geddis wanted to create a “third place” in her town of Athens; a place separate from home and work. Athens, like many college towns, has plenty of bars, but very few destinations where friends and neighbors can just hang out.

Ten years ago, coffee shops offered this kind of third place. Today, most coffee shops are remote office locations. Instead of being able to meet friends for lively conversation, you find yourself surrounded by singles stuck behind computer screens and scowling when your banter distracts them from their work. Now in many communities, the local indie bookstore is a third place where it’s now hip to hang out.

Almost four year agos, Geddis began to build a successful local indie bookstore. She first asked her potential customers through surveys sent to electronic listservs of librarians, teachers, parents, and social, business, and community organizations what exactly they would like to see in a local indie bookstore.  She set out to build a bookstore to serve those local customers’ needs and interests.

How she did it may surprise you. First she created Avid Bookshop online as a bookseller and built her business savvy about books with an electronic storefront.  Geddis created Avid Bookshop before she even had a physical location.  She built a local customer base by hosting author events, book celebrations, and community readings in and around Athens. As a community leader in the Local First movement in Athens, she networked with other small businesses and spent face-to-face time cultivating friendships and social acquaintances among people who read books. Preparing the storefront with several coats of paint, bookshelves, and new inventory in the bricks-and-mortar location involved community volunteers with the Athens Time Bank. When the doors opened, Janet Geddis had built her customer base with the shared idea that a town is not a town without an indie bookstore.

Janet Geddis also used the power of social media marketing to crowdsource her idea of a community bookstore. Some of her customer base provided micro-loans as part of the start-up financing for the Prince Avenue storefront.

Most people think of online bookselling and brick-and-mortar bookstores as competitors. Geddis’ business acumen recognized selling books is selling books; and that even in local purchasing choices, today most customers go online and let their fingers do the walking first. Geddis recognizes online bookselling goes hand-in-hand with handselling books in a bookstore. One customer who works across the street in Daily’s Grocery Coop told my friend Mary Whitehead he’d ordered online from Avid Bookshop and it only took three days before the book was in his hands. That’s good local business. Using Facebook, Twitter (@AvidBookshop) and a blog, Geddis bootstrapped into a brick-and-mortar location with tremendous community buy-in to her book business.

Opening a bookstore when Borders closes down and Barnes & Noble gets bailed out by GE – after a decade of big box bookstores driving out small, local, independent bookstores – might seem risky. Others may see the internet, e-books and online book sales as a threat to the future of bookstores. Geddis doesn’t. Avid Bookshop is community-focused and that makes her business model a sustainable and progressive one. Athens is richer for it.

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