An Avid Bookshop Announcement


Dec. 6, 2019

From Janet Geddis, owner/founder

 

If you’ve ever been in a fender bender, you know the phone call I’m about to describe. The one where you call your parent or partner or best friend and, before the can finish saying, “Hello?” you blurt out: “Everything’s fine but something happened.” Or maybe “I’m not hurt but was just in an accident.”

 

Despite how quickly I deliver reassurances of my physical safety, I know it’s hard for the loved one on the other end of that call for the half-second it takes to process the fact that I am okay.

 

Deep breath.

 

Avid Bookshop is safe, but I need to tell you something. Effective December 31, 2019, we will be closing Avid Bookshop on Prince Avenue, shifting to a one-store model once again.

 

Did you gasp? I’ve known this news for a bit and still find that the preceding sentence leaves me feeling a little short of breath.

 

The burdens of business ownership are high, but so are the rewards. I would not trade this life for anything, and that’s why I have made the decision to downsize while we’re in good shape.

 

I didn’t come to this decision lightly. Because I suspect many of you are freaking out a little bit, I thought it would be kindest to ditch my infamously verbose paragraphs and simply make an F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions) list you can skim quickly and come back to re-read later.

 

FAQs

 

Is this the first sign that Avid Bookshop is going to go out of business completely?

No. Both of our locations have seen a decrease in sales over the last 18-24 months, but we’re hanging on. Due to the heavily predicted 2020 recession (which some think has already hit certain communities), we want to be extra cautious with our budgets.

 

I’m going to go into Avid right this second and ask the booksellers working to tell me more about all of this. Maybe I’ll share with them some unfounded concerns about how everything is doomed?  

Oh, please reconsider this plan, dear reader. Give me and not them your difficult queries and concerns. Because I am the owner of the business as well as the main spokesperson, I’d appreciate it if you could ask any burning questions directly of me (email me at janet@avidbookshop.com) and not to my employees. I’ve been thinking on this for awhile and running the numbers and the different scenarios, but to them this is new. And it might be big and scary despite their knowing that their bosses have their backs. So reach out to me in person or via email if you have specific questions. If you’re a press person, you can email me if you want to schedule an interview.

 

But it feels like you just opened Five Points and told us that opening a second store would help keep Avid on Prince healthier long-term. 

You’re right—and, for the first year or so of having two stores, we were going like gangbusters.

You may recall that in September 2016 we announced that we were opening a second location. At that point, we were experiencing year-by-year growth that was becoming difficult to handle (I know, cry me a river—but sometimes rapid sales growth can be hard to keep up with!). The ideal situation would have been to expand our Prince location so that we had much more retail selling space as well as storage, back rooms, offices, and more—but expanding was not an option for us. So we opened a second store. Despite our best efforts (and trust me: we worked very hard to make this particular two-store model work), our costs were outpacing our sales numbers at an unsustainable rate. Meaning we had very little, if any, money to invest back into the business once our bills were paid. We could technically go on another couple of years like this, but the stress would be enormous and the risk of losing everything we’ve built would be too high for my comfort.

Why Prince and not Five Points? Prince was the original, after all!

For the last several months, we’ve been in lease renewal negotiations with our landlord of Avid on Prince. Since October 2019, we’ve been operating on month-to-month terms. I won’t get into detail here, but I will tell you that several of my bookstore-owning mentors, some financial pros, and trusted commercial real estate advisors wholeheartedly support this plan and think it’s the smart thing to do (even though it’s true that we are all bumming). Not being able to reach lease terms I was satisfied with was perhaps a blessing in disguise—it gives us a natural time to close up shop and regroup.

We truly appreciate the support our landlord has given us over the years. He took a chance on Avid Bookshop at a time when the collective wisdom was that small businesses, and especially bookshops, were unsafe bets. The building has been in his family for generations and it has been an honor to set up shop there.  We've given the landlord ample notice of our leaving; we hope that a rad business chooses to find its home at the cozy 493 Prince Ave. address.

What about my favorite booksellers? Are you going to have to let people go?

We sure hope to retain everyone that plans to stay on board. We will be refocusing some of our programming and outside-of-the-shop sales opportunities in a way that will allow us to generate more sales per square foot than we’re currently getting, allowing us to retain as many of the booksellers as humanly possible. If you know me, you know my fellow managers and I exert a lot of effort taking care of our staff. No one is going to be tossed out on their ear, promise.

What sort of things will you be able to do with one store that you couldn’t do with two?
We all love our jobs (read my most recent newsletter and you’ll see what I mean), but it seems we each have amazing ideas and initiatives we’d like to bring to the table but are just too strapped for time and energy to do as things are. By reformatting our employees’ schedule a bit and finding space to work more on marketing, writing reviews, doing guest appearances on radio shows and podcasts, and finding new and inventive revenue streams, we’ll be able to be more creative and energized. I’m really excited for the ideas we’ve already come up with, plus the ones that have lingered for months (or years) but haven’t been enacted due simply to lack of time.

Hold on a second, though. You said originally that you opened a second store in order to accommodate demand. Tell me again how downsizing to one store is not a dreadful sign of doom for my favorite bookshop.

Avid on Prince is 790 sq. ft. total, with about 750 sq. ft. of selling square space (actual areas where we can put out things for sale). Zero storage. No back office.

Avid at Five Points is over 300 square feet larger than Avid on Prince, plus we have an office/receiving area as well as significant storage. We can do things with our space there that were never possible at Avid on Prince. We can store donation books, have meetings, store all our files (the end-of-day receipts from the last several years take up so. much. room. alone!), organize bulk orders, prepare for book fairs, process and label newly arrived gift items, and so much more. While I think many customers dug the DIY way everything is out in the open at Avid on Prince (even when it gets messy, which I don’t love), my staff’s time can be used more effectively if they can do some tasks behind the scenes. That also means they won’t be distracted by computer work when they’re scheduled to work the sales floor, focused on YOU.

But my kids grew up at Avid on Prince! My wife proposed to me there! The day after the 2016 election, it’s the first place I headed for some time with my community. I have so many memories in that magical space. How can you say goodbye?

I know. I know. I am teary-eyed while writing this. To get a little personal here, I’d like to share an insight I shared with some close friends lately: while I am profoundly sad to say goodbye to Avid on Prince and will likely sob like a baby repeatedly in late 2019 and beyond, I know it’s the right thing to do. For myself, for my employees, for my bottom line. For my mental health and stress. In 2017, my ex-husband and I separated; we were divorced in 2018. Since we started dating in 2006, I thought that he was it for me. And, as much as I know I’ll always love him, it’s been fascinating to see how I have blossomed and changed for the better since we split. If I hadn’t had that heart-breaking and heart-opening experience of divorce, I might have decided to renew my lease as-is. I might have decided that love, sentimentality, ego, and determination would be enough reason to not close one of my stores. But you know what? Going through a divorce and coming out the other side healthier, happier, and more creatively energized than I have been in years has given me the strength to let go of Avid on Prince. To make a supremely hard decision—one that will affect literally thousands of loyal patrons and booksellers past and present—and know it’s the right thing to do even if it hurts a little (okay, a lot).

 

This is freaking me out, especially since Ike & Jane closed on November 27th. Is Prince Avenue doomed? Is local business doomed? Should I just go ahead and buy everything on Amazon, from donuts to books?

Answers, in order: We get it, but don’t panic; no; no; DEFINITELY NOT.

 

Our reasons for leaving Prince Avenue are different from Ike & Jane’s, but that doesn’t mean we don't have other concerns in common with them. The cost of doing business (which includes cost of inventory, employee wages/salaries, rent, utilities, maintenance, equipment, trainings, supplies, and so much more) is going up across the board. It is about eight trillion times harder than I ever anticipated to have a locally-owned, independent business.

 

Typically, the closure of a beloved local institution, whether it be a bookshop, clothing boutique, hardware store, bakery, restaurant, gallery, watering hole, coffee shop, or park brings up a lot of emotion for people who have ties to that place. It also brings up a sense of regret or FOHLO (an alternative to FOMO I just made up—fear of having lost out). “I drove by that place every day and always meant to make it in!” “I love that boutique’s Instagram page but usually end up buying clothes from [insert name of corporate fast fashion company here].” “I used to go to that bookshop all the time but they were doing so well I reverted to shopping mostly on Amazon for new books.”

 

Avid isn’t going away. But many bookstores before us have, and many beloved local gathering spots have come and gone here in Athens. We’re seeing an increase in storefronts dedicated to chains and non-local franchises. While the fault doesn’t lie squarely with the consumer, I know I myself am guilty of not always practicing what I preach: to buy local/independent first. Not always, not exclusively—but first.

So, while our big news isn’t as upsetting as the announcement of Ike & Jane’s closing on what looks to be a permanent basis, it can serve as a reminder that local businesses can be really, really, really difficult to maintain. That we work really hard to earn your business and that we truly appreciate it when you choose to buy your books, cards, and gifts at Avid.

You do almost all your events and a few book clubs at Avid on Prince. What does this mean for the future of that sort of programming?

We’ll be moving any in-store events and book clubs in January 2020 and beyond to Avid at Five Points; we will continue to use a handful of offsite venues for larger-scale events.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re downsizing and closing one of your stores. Does this mean there’s going to be a sale?!

Yes, you naughty little book addict. We will be having a sale at Avid on Prince only December 26th, 27th, 28th, and 29th.

 

Oh my my. You’re downsizing and closing one of your stores. I don’t want a sale, I want to A, come hug you and B, offer up some help.

A) Hugs for me? You have my full consent and appreciation.

 

B) Help? Yes, please, and thank you so much. Here are a few things you can do:

Spread the word about December 2019 being our last month at Avid on Prince—encourage friends who’ve never been as well as those who are regulars to join you for some book browsing.

  • Shop with us at both stores this holiday season.
  • Shop with us online, and encourage your friends to do the same. 
  • Whether or not you’re local, and whether or not your loved one is local, buy a book subscription as a gift for the reader in your life!
  • Have extra snacks or cookies from holiday gatherings you want out of your house? No sweat. Our merry band of booksellers will eat them, especially since during the holiday craziness they can feel rushed during meal breaks. 
  • Do you have big muscles and/or a truck/van/group of body-builder friends who can help us move shelving from Avid on Prince to our basement at Avid at Five Points during the last couple of days of the year? Let our operations manager Luis know by emailing him here. 
  • Point people to this very letter/FAQ list if they are hearing rumors about Avid and haven’t read this official announcement from the boss lady.
  • If you’re a Prince Avenue loyalist (you know who you are—yep, you and you and you, longtime Avid fans), I know this will be especially hard on you. Please make the two-mile journey to Five Points and keep hanging out with us there. We’ll even tell you some parking secrets. Deal? Deal. 

I want to make sure you go out with a bang. Is there some way I can say goodbye officially?

Well, you can drop by to sign our Avid on Prince Memories poster, which will be hanging at Avid on Prince starting later this month. You can also post photos, testimonials, and/or videos on social media (tag our Facebook page or Instagram/Twitter handles so we can share!)—use the hashtag #avidonprince. Snap a selfie wearing an Avid tee standing in front of Avid on Prince. Write a note to a bookseller who would love to hear how they touched your life (and reassure them that you’ll come hang with them at Five Points in 2020).

 

Oh, those are lovely ideas. But basically I was thinking about a party.

Fabulous. We’ve been thinking about that, too, and we’re going to have a party (BYOB, though we’ll try to have some beer or wine for those who are 21(+), plus some non-alcoholic options). Come hang with us on Saturday, December 28th from 6pm - 10pm at Avid on Prince.

 

But seriously. Is Avid okay?

Seriously. Avid is okay. Not as stellar as we’ll be when we regroup and reorganize a bit in 2020 and reevaluate some things, but we’re okay. I actually think it’s good to be making this decision before things do get more financially difficult with the upcoming recession. Being smart and thinking ahead is one thing we can do pretty well (don't forget it took me 4 years between announcing the shop and actually opening).

 

Are you okay, Janet?

Yes, I am.  Thank you for asking. More than a little sad, of course, but also energized and excited for the opportunities to come. This is lighting a fire under me and getting me thinking about ways I can better focus my energy and time.

 

How are the booksellers?

I hope they’ll be fine. Because of the nature of working in a much-loved business in a small(ish) town, the only Avid folks who’ve known about this for awhile is the management team (me, Rachel Watkins, and Luis Correa). We let the rest of the staff know about this just last night, so they likely need time to adjust to the new reality, to ask questions, to be nervous, and to figure out how they feel. I can say that both Luis and Rachel share my feelings of being both sad and energized.

 

Because this one is really important, we're posting it again here. Seriously. <3 

I’m going to go into Avid right this second and ask the booksellers working to tell me more about all of this. Maybe I’ll share with them some unfounded concerns about how everything is doomed? 
Oh, please reconsider this plan, dear reader. Give me and not them your difficult queries and concerns. Because I am the owner of the business as well as the main spokesperson, I’d appreciate it if you could ask any burning questions directly of me and not to my employees. I’ve been thinking on this for awhile and running the numbers and the different scenarios, but to them this is new. And it might be big and scary despite their knowing that their bosses have their backs. So reach out to me in person or via email if you have specific questions. If you’re a press person, you can email me at janet@avidbookshop.com if you want to schedule an interview.