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A Jewel Hidden in Atlanta's
Little Five Points

An Interview with Frank Reiss

by Pam Kingsbury 

 
 

The mark of a good bookseller is creating an environment of comfort for literary enthusiasts as they discover new works. The mark of an excellent bookseller is having the resources to locate out-of-print books, and when the masses demand it -- republish a much loved paperback. Frank Reiss is an excellent bookseller.

A Cappella Books in Atlanta's Little Five Points -- the South's answer to Greenwich Village-- caters to the tastes of the bohemian neighborhood. The bookstore specializes in the Beat Generation, the 1960s, counterculture, conspiracy theories, anarchism, radical politics, non-classical music, hoboes and gypsies. Listed on Atlanta's CitySearch Best of 2003 List, A Cappella Books is a trendy place to be seen -- but forget the latte.

 

What's your background?

I grew up in Mobile, AL and Atlanta, hoping to some day become a writer. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in Latin and a lot of experience in journalism, I moved to San Francisco and was contemplating grad school, when...

I took a part-time job at a tiny used and rare bookstore called Acorn Books in San Francisco's Tenderloin district (not exactly the section featured on postcards or visited by tourists). Eventually it became a much larger store (it remains one of the biggest and best in the Bay Area) and I became the manager. After about 5 or 6 years it seemed like it was time to set out on my own, so I returned home to Atlanta and opened A Cappella Books in 1989.
 

How has the business changed?

After almost 15 years of the business changing so little it almost got boring, the last 5 or so years, because of the internet, have seen such fundamental change I question almost daily whether or not any of my past experience is of any value to me. I know at some level it is, but with the ease with which anybody can now buy or sell books, it has become a daily challenge to see if we can keep moving books enough books here to stay in business. So far we have, but as I have been saying a lot lately, each year we do a little bit better, but we have to work a LOT harder to do so.


What does an independent bookstore have to offer that the chains can't?

We like to think that our knowledge and passion for books is greater than that at the chain stores, but I know for a fact that there are countless knowledgeable and passionate book people who work for chains, because that's where most of the bookstore jobs are now. But book people don't generally relate too well to the corporate mentality, so independent stores generally have a better spirit about them that originates from the greater congruity
between the people who work in them and what they're require--or not required--to do.


Tell us about your employees? Their backgrounds and ability  to hand sell?

I have two long-term and full or near-full time employees, Ken Mallory and Glen Thrasher. Both are unbelievably well-read, though only Glen has any formal higher education. Ken's knowledge comes from a lifetime of voracious reading and about half a lifetime of selling books. His tastes vary fairly widely but the unifying appeal of most of his favorite books and authors is their relative obscurity. That doesn't necessarily translate to a lot of hand selling, but our stock is a lot more interesting because of Ken.

Glen is truly omnivorous in his tastes, devouring everything from Dean Koontz to James Joyce. You'd be hard-pressed to name any important piece of literature in English--and a lot that aren't so important--that Glen hasn't read. For any serious reader, his knowledge is a great resource.


How can hand selling help an author's sales and a bookstore's sales?

We certainly have our favorites and enough dedicated followers that we can sell a lot of titles that might otherwise not do too well, but we really try to cultivate a clientele with well-developed enough tastes that we primarily just try to stock as many great books as possible and let them sell themselves.


What personal services are you able to offer regular and/or new customers?

We can help anybody find most any trade book they're looking for, in or out of print. We extend discounts to book groups, and for every person who buys any book from us, we offer what we call our "Reading for Extra Credit" card, on which we give a stamp for every dollar spent, and when the card is full with 100 stamps, it's worth $15 on their next purchase. Basically, it's a 15% discount for regular customers.


What type of promotional events have you held in the store?

We've hosted a number of authors, and really enjoy making each event unique. Two that come to mind are an event for a baseball book we had last year, A Cup of Coffee by Rob Trucks. We had peanuts and Cracker Jack, Coca-Cola and beer as we talked baseball with the author and a couple of ex-Major League pitchers featured in the book. Also, for Mike Tidwell's wonderful but tragic book about coastal land loss in Louisiana, Bayou Farewell, we had a Cajun band, gumbo and crawfish pie.


Are there any new writers and/or books you or your employees are excited about?

We've been very supportive of a local author, James Gallant, whose book, Big Bust at Tyrone's Rooming House, is an extremely well-done portrait of his in town Atlanta neighborhood, Grant Park, a very typical gentrifying urban area. It takes on a lot of complex issues with great honesty and surprising humor.


What upcoming events are on the calendar?

We're cooking up something fun and as-yet-to-be determined in March for local newspaper columnist and NPR commentator Hollis Gillespie's new book, "Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch."

On Sunday, February 29th, at 7 p.m., we're hosting a launch party for a book we're reprinting about the early days of the Athens, Georgia music scene, Party Out of Bounds by Rodger Brown.  

Originally published in 1991, Party Out of Bounds remains the only account of the early
days of the Athens music scene written by someone who was present throughout the
entire period. Brown, who has written for such publications as The Village Voice and
The New York Times Magazine, lived in Athens from 1977 until 1987.  
 
At the time of its publication, praise for Brown’s book included such comments as this
from Billboard Magazine: “For fans of the bands, rock historians, and followers of the
indie scene, this is a “Party” worth attending.” And from the San Francisco Bay Guardian:
“With a book like Brown’s …we can revisit, again and again, a mythic place of lust, youth,
music and eyeliner: fragments of our past, shards of our present, refractions of our future.”
And R.E.M.’s Peter Buck acknowledged that the book “really captures the rhythm and feel
of the Athens music scene. Rodger should know—he was there from the beginning.” 
 
The new edition features entirely redesigned cover art and interior graphics, capturing more
appropriately than the original book the look and feel of those long ago days. Since the original
edition of the book went out-of-print, it has become a much sought-after title in the rare book
market. This edition is published by everthemore books, the publishing side of A Cappella Books.
 

A Cappella Books
Buying and selling quality books in all fields since 1989

1133 Euclid Avenue
Atlanta, GA
30307

phone: 404-681-5128
e-mail: acappellabooks@earthlink.net
web site: http://www.acappellabooks.com

Affiliations with amazon.com, abebooks and alibris.

Monday 11:00 AM  to   8:00 PM
Tuesday 11:00 AM  to   8:00 PM
Wednesday 11:00 AM  to   8:00 PM
Thursday 11:00 AM  to   8:00 PM
Friday 11:00 AM  to  10:00 PM
Saturday 11:00 AM  to  10:00 PM
Sunday noon to  7:00 PM

 
Event this Month
Publishing Party for Party Out of Bounds by Rodger Lyle Brown
Sunday, February 29th, at 7 p.m.
Party Out of Bounds:
The B-52's, R.E.M. and the Kids Who Rocked Athens, Georgia
by Rodger Lyle Brown
Everthemore Books, 2004 (re-issue)
Trade paper, $16.00 (221 pages)
ISBN: 0-9743877-0-3

      Southern Scribe Review

 

 

© 2004, Pam Kingsbury, All Rights Reserved