Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The question you might have on your mind: why is there no storefront yet?

(File this under FAQs you've yet to utter.)

If you keep your ear to the ground in Athens and/or in the bookselling world, you know that I've been working towards opening Avid Bookshop for years now.  Perhaps I'm a touch paranoid, but I think it's not too crazy to assume that some of you are thinking, "WHY IN THE WORLD ISN'T THIS BOOKSTORE OPEN YET?"

Here, in a nutshell, are a few reasons why we have yet to move into a retail space:

1. Adieu, business partner. After working together for months, my business partner (and close friend) reevaluated things and decided that starting the bookstore business was not the best move for her just yet.  I spent a couple months figuring out a, if I wanted to open the store on my own, b, if I COULD open it on my own, and c, how her absence would change the bookstore plans (it changed a lot).

2. The economic crisis/slump/catastrophe/nightmare/problem-period.  This affected my own income (which I'm using to float myself during the first few years of business), my spending habits, and more.  On a less personal level, the crisis caused banks to completely rework their lending requirements, resulting in my being totally prepared for loans that no longer existed.  More on that at the end of this post.

3. Personal stuff.  I could go into more detail here, but suffice it to say that we were dealing with a lot at home in 2010.  Things are going well now and everyone is healthy, but for awhile there I had to totally hold off on finding a storefront because of a need to put my family first.

4. The introduction of new, friendly competition.  When a new bookstore moved to Athens in October, I was forced to look at my business plan in a different way, wanting to make sure that my plans & services complemented the city's other bookstores--I want each of our shops to be different enough that you want to spend time in all three indie stores.  Non-chain bookstores are as unique as their owners, after all. As someone who rearranges the furniture at least once a month, shifting my plans was a fun experiment, and I think you'll be pleased with the results.

5. The limited suitable retail space in my target neighborhood.  After a veritable drought, there may finally be some options along the Prince Avenue corridor, and I'm looking forward to opening up shop in a space that's accessible to all you Avid readers in Boulevard/Normaltown and the surrounding neighborhoods.  I don't want to jinx anything by saying much more.  As many retail store owners have told me time and time again, location is of the utmost importance, and waiting for the perfect (or near-perfect) spot is far better than opening in a place that won't suit my business.

6. I haven't exactly been twiddling my thumbs. Because I am addicted to biting off more than I can chew, and because I'm a sucker for anything related to Athens, books, community building, neighborhoods, and more, I've been keeping myself very busy with other projects as I wait for the perfect time to open the Avid Bookshop storefront. I've been running a successful bookstore business online (http://www.avidbookshop.com), organizing events (including my favorite one from October 2010!), hosting book clubs, and more.  I'm also on the board for We Are Athens (Buy Local), the Athens Regional Library, the Boulevard Neighborhood Association, and my condominium association. I have a few non-bookstore jobs, too:  I'm a regular contributor (writing about books and reading) to local publications Beyond the Trestle, the Athens Banner-Herald, and Athens Magazine.  I also have two other part-time jobs editing & writing, so those keep me occupied in the hours I'm not working on bookstore duties.

Hope that answers your burning questions!

In the meantime, I'm so grateful to those of you who've been shopping with me online (or at special sales, events, and markets).  I'm always here to give you book recommendations (it's my job, after all).

Please know I'm working hard to make sure that I bring to Athens a neighborhood, community-focused bookstore that suits YOUR needs.  Your patience and support mean so much to me as I continue on this journey.

-Janet Geddis

And, as promised above, here are some boring details about the economics of this, just in case you want to read my ramblings:

Turns out 2008 was one of the worst and best years to decide to launch a brand-new business.

The Good News about these last few years, economically speaking:
For many of us, the economic crisis led us to reevaluate our spending habits, our homes, and our communities.  The buy local movement is growing rapidly (locally, the We Are Athens initiative, an organization I am on the founding board of, is ramping up for a big year!), and people are spending their precious disposable income more carefully.  As megacorporations and big-box stores continually under-serve shoppers, well-run, independent businesses are taking the reins.

The Bad News about these last few years, economically speaking:
Starting a business from scratch in the best of economic times is hard enough; small business loans are hard to get, but banks have historically been willing to take a chance on young entrepreneurs.  This changed over the last couple of years, however.  As you're well aware, many banks have failed.  Those that remain have more stringent lending policies, especially as many of the loans they've granted are going unpaid by struggling or unprepared business owners or homeowners. As much as they want to help out local entrepreneurs, local banks cannot usually take the risk.  Which means those "surefire" loans I'd planned to get a few years ago all but dried up. No need to cry, though--I'm an inventive entrepreneur with a strong support system and a willingness to quickly accommodate to changes in the book industry and our town.


Eileen said...

I'm with you! The loan situation has completely changed over the past couple of years. As you and I both know quite well, opening a store takes quite a bit of money. Sounds like you have a great deal of support from family, friends and community and that makes the difference. (but I got tired of the question - when will you be open??? -- it takes a lot of time and patience and money. Stay strong and hope to see you next week!

SarahT said...

I dreamed about Athens last night, and Boulevard/Normaltown featured prominently. Today, I read this post. An omen of some significance for you & Avid? Let's hope so; I think that would be a terrific location for your bookshop, and I look forward to stopping in someday ... before or after a nice nosh at White Tiger Gourmet!

Avid Bookshop said...

Eileen, I know I am only aware of a hint of what you've gone through for your store. I can't wait to visit--it's been so rewarding to follow your story. Kudos to you.

SarahT, if you do stop by one day, you'll have to tell me that you're the one who posted on this blog! I am going to read your dream as an omen. :) I know the neighborhood will really love having Avid (and I'll love being there!).

Olga said...

Oh, Janet - I sooo relate! As much as we would both like to have opened already, there's a time and a season and our shops will both be turning (pun completely intended!) this year!!! I can feel it in my waters.

I can't wait for next week and am actually toying with the idea of asking all attendees to donate to my IndieGoGo campaign that ends in a month.

Paul said...

I was shocked by the changes in the banking/loan situatuation myself, and Texas wasn't hit nearly as hard as the rest of the country. When my banker told me how much I needed to bring to the table for a loan for my bookstore, all I could think was "if I had that much I wouldn't need a loan." Back to the funding drawing board.

We have never met, but I've followed your plans for Avid since I first saw an article in Shelf Awareness some time ago. If it's any encouragement, I also recall that the owners of Greenlight Books in Brooklyn encountered the same ups and downs, and they just celebrated the first anniversary of their successful storefront. You'll get there too.

Avid Bookshop said...

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone!
Olga and Paul, I know we are kindred bookselling spirits! I always knew I wanted my own bookstore, but now I'm more sure than ever--still wanting to tackle this enormous project in spite of all the hurdles shows me that this is definitely the path for me.
Paul, I was told how much I needed to bring to the table and--miracle of miracles--I got those funds together! Then (cue ominous music) I was told I needed more after all. The one constant when dealing with funding is change, right? Jessica & Rebecca's store story is certainly encouraging all the time, but especially at times like this.