Bookstores are a dying breed—in particular, small, independent bookshops have been eaten alive by the mega-giant amazon.com. We used to have Jackson Street Books downtown. The telltale smell of old books—many of which were valuable collectors’ items—filled the air inside the store. We still have Avid Bookshop, but their original Prince Avenue location closed last year.
Their second location, in the vibrant, affluent Five Points neighborhood adjacent to our university, will now be the last one standing in the disappearing world of small, independent bookshops, for our college town has lost our only other small, independent bookshop, situated in the heart of Normaltown: our beloved Normal Books.
Normal Books, like many other small businesses, was not able to survive the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, July 20, Normal Books closed its doors.
One of the best parts about living in a college town is the unique character created by the local businesses. In that respect, Normal Books was truly something special. It was the only bookstore in Athens that sold new books at used books prices. They hosted events in the store—knitting groups, book clubs, children’s activities and our famous Athens Writers Association public readings.
We, the Athens Writers Association, were blessed when Chris and Mary got the idea to open their independent discount bookstore in Normaltown—one of the few neighborhoods in Athens, other than Five Points, where small, local businesses have a chance to thrive. The west side of town is becoming a hub of big franchises and big business, much like you’d expect to see in a larger city rather than a unique college town. Normaltown was the perfect location to open a store with the mission to make new books affordable to everyone and to become a living member of the local community.
It took about six months for our Athens Writers Association to catch on to the fire of Normal Books. Chris and Mary opened their store on Prince Avenue, across the street from Piedmont Hospital, in December 2017. Since we began our partnership with them in early June 2018, our Athens Writers Association wqs proud to support Chris and Mary and their vision as much as they supported our local authors. Not only did they host our public readings without charging us a dime to use their space or advertise, but they also created an entire shelf devoted to our local authors. Much like Avid Bookshop, Normal Books had limited space for inventory, but Chris and Mary generously displayed and sold copies of books written by Athens writers, regardless of their fame or previous marketability. They were our partners in every way—the extraordinary and anything but “normal” Normal Bookstore.
Our writers group disbanded before the pandemic began, but it was my dream—before the pandemic—that it would not be long before we revived again under a new name, with new leadership and with new hope to keep the vision of a supportive local group of writing peers thriving and alive in Athens. And part of that hope was thanks to the generous support and loyalty of our friends in Normaltown—the extraordinary and anything but “normal” Normal Bookstore.
I am grateful for their partnership with the AWA, and I am praying that our paths may cross again in better times.
Normal Books, we love you.
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