Avid Bookshop owner Janet Geddis celebrated her store’s second anniversary with its first sale on Saturday, October 12th.
Anticipating a large order of new books in the near future, the popular but tiny bookstore is in need for extra space. Geddis, a UGA alum, is using the sale to open up room in Avid’s overflowing bookshelves.
Only two years old on Oct. 21, the Prince Avenue shop and community hub for “avid” readers of all ages has made its distinctive mark in Cobbham and the city of Athens. Janet chatted about her experience and success in the bookseller industry.
Q: First things first, why did you start a bookstore?
A: It’s a bit of a complicated answer. I guess at the heart of it, I just really love books and I love reading. I was thinking back to how the signs were always there. Whenever I went book-shopping, I would alphabetize and put books in order at bookstores. My mom would remind me that I was there to shop and I didn’t need to be working.
It was one of the first potential careers that I really examined that combined all of these smaller careers I was really looking into. I was looking into teaching and it wasn’t quite what I wanted to do. I was kind of looking into event planning, a little bit of writing, a little bit of editing, community gathering, non-profits. I realized by opening a bookstore I could combine elements that I loved about those other careers and do it all. It’s worked out perfectly.
Q: Were you worried about [starting a bookstore]? Considering the age of Kindles and Nooks?
A: Not really. I didn’t open it blindly. I set up internships with other bookstores. I started going to bookstore conferences. I started studying the industry. And of course, there’s always what the media likes to hype and there’s the real story. And the real story is, yeah, there are a lot of people who read e-books but most of them also read paper books. And paper book sales are doing fine. There’s no statistical reason to believe that paper books are ever going to go extinct. It’s just a lot of hype people like to talk about.
The most wonderful thing to find out was that independent bookstores in general are doing better than ever before… I feel like by meeting people one by one, interacting with customers one by one, we’re able to show them a community-based bookstore where we actually know who you are, remember what you like to read. The personal connection is something I don’t think people are going to stop valuing.
Q: So that (personal connection) doesn’t go away?
A: Yeah. It’s certainly not easy to do. The profit margin is super slim so there’s not a lot of room for error. But so far, so good.
Q: How is your competition? Or, who would you say is your competition?
A: It depends on what field of competition you’re looking at. If you’re just looking at books in terms of commodity, then our main competition is Amazon, of course. Not so much Barnes and Noble only because our local Barnes and Noble is several miles away and our clientele is really different. We don’t have a lot of overlap in terms of the market we’re trying to reach.
Q: Who is your target market?
A: I guess it’s kind of changed over the years. There are young professionals in the area and, to use the Athens’ definition of the word, it’s mostly townies. People that live within walking distance, who are really interested in shopping locally. They don’t have any more money than anyone else but they are more conscious of how they spend it. I’d say a majority of our customers, if they wanted to, could walk to the store and are very involved with the Athens food scene, music scene, cultural scene. And that’s kind of who we went for when we first opened. As we’ve gotten more grounded with that target market, we’ve kind of expanded a little more and tried to reach more people.
Q: Who are your employees?
A: I have a handful right now and they are all wonderful. Rachel, who does events and PR, has been helping me since way before the store. Other than her, everyone else has been on board within the last year. Everyone is completely invitation-only based on our experiences with them in the store.
Q: What’s your involvement in Cobbham?
A: We don’t do a lot of official things with the neighborhood other than knowing most of the people nearby. We try do some beautification and clean up things with the neighborhood. From a Cobbham business perspective, we refer people to the T.R.R. Cobb House a lot who want to travel here. The Model Citizen Salon next door, the Daily Co-op (Daily Groceries Co-op), the frame shop (Athens Art and Frame), the Heritage Foundation, all of us have become buddies. Everybody knows each other and everybody shops in each other’s businesses all the time.
Q: Where do you get your books from?
A: Most of them come direct from publishers. The most fun thing about the job I have is that I meet every couple of months with a representative from every major and minor publishing company. We look through catalogs of books that are going to be coming out in the next few months and I pick out ones that I think would be a good fit for Avid. They work with me to decide how to stock the store but it’s really fun because you’re buying thousands of dollars of books in a day or in an hour. It’s like a book lover’s dream.
Q: Have you ever had to interact with Athens-Clarke County at all?
A: I’ve never had any negative interactions with the county as a whole. Before I opened, I was awarded a loan [which] specializes in gap financing. So if a business really wants to open in Clarke County and doesn’t have quite enough money, as long as you demonstrate that you have some traditional funding and some of your own savings, they kind of fill in the blanks. It was a total pleasure working with them.
I know a lot of people like to gripe about all the fees local government charges and all the licenses but I feel like it’s 100 percent worth it. It’s much more important to me to have a business in Athens-Clarke County than it would to drive 15 minutes every day to have a business in a neighboring county that I don’t live in just to save a little money. I’m happy to be here and happy to pay whatever small fees I need to keep Avid running.
Q: What’s your revenue been like since opening?
A: It’s been very good. I don’t have specific numbers to report. We’ve been profitable which is really nice for a new business. Usually it takes a few years for a business to get into the profitability range. Of course we always wanted to grow because the more can grow, the more people we can hire, and the more outside programs we can do. It’s been strong enough that we’ve been able to start doing more offerings to local schools and we do many more off-site events. We have six employees and I used to have two or three when I opened. So it’s going well.