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A Eulogy for Atlanta Book Exchange

A tribute to the Highlands independent book shop

OK, so maybe eulogy is a bit melodramatic, but my Sunday afternoon visit to the , which is closing its doors on July 5, was incredibly sad.

I imagined the 10 or so patrons that were navigating the overstuffed stacks of  classic literature, poetry and reference books were speaking in hushed tones as if at a funeral.

It was funereal, alright, but it was a funeral with half-priced books. (Until its stock is depleted, the store has slashed its prices in order to move more product).

I admit that I felt a little like a highway bandit when I paid $12 for two relatively new tomes -- one was even a hardcover. As I was checking out, I told the employee behind the counter that I'd no doubt return once or twice before the end.

I would always mourn the loss of an independent bookseller, but for me, Atlanta Book Exchange is something special.

Located in a gracefully aging house, the store is cozy and crammed with books, so much that it was sometimes hard to navigate the pathways between overstocked bookshelves. Walking over there from my Virginia-Highland duplex (it’s a bit of a jog, yes, but it's well worth it), I could easily spend a few hours browsing through the stacks, seeing too many good books to buy.

Atlanta Book Exchange was my one source for music literature. One of the most important things about being music writer is also being a consumer of music writing, and I've bought my weight in writing by some of the greats there. There really wasn't anywhere close by where I could find Gary Giddins' "Visions of Jazz," next to two relatively new-looking copies of "Hamp: An Autobiography" and the requisite academic treatises on Beatles songs.

Of course, music books only take up a small portion of the shop. I've picked up half of John McPhee's oeuvre (that massive copy of "Annals of the Former World" is staring at me as I write this), and a prized copy of Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking." I've also stumbled upon books that, after reading a few paragraphs, I simply had to add to my collection.

Now I could tell you about how the closing of the Atlanta Book Exchange fits into a nationwide trend, that the decline of independent booksellers is noting new and that even the big chains (Borders) are falling to pieces due to a general decline in reading and the rise of eBooks. But you've heard all that before, no doubt.

This recent closing hits me especially hard, and not only because it was my hands-down favorite bookstore in Atlanta. A few months ago, the proprietor of Bookpeople, the main bookstore in my hometown of Moscow, Idaho, announced he was retiring. Unless someone swoops in at the Eleventh Hour and agrees to buy the store, this is the end of the only substantial bookstore in the small, university town. City officials appreciated his service so much, that they made a city-wide proclamation to the owner, Bob Greene. 

So why tell you that short little story? Because independent bookstores are entrenched into their respective communities. Atlanta Book Exchange was the closest thing Virginia-Highland residents had to a used bookstore, and it will be sorely missed.

I'll now be spending my time at the next closest bookshop, , but it just won't be the same.

Eileen Drennen June 28, 2011 at 08:59 PM
it's so sad -- spent many happy hours browsing and finding Must Haves... but don't forget to patronize longtime indie A CAPPELLA BOOKS on moreland avenue in little five points, which (thank heavens) is still going strong!
Virginia June 29, 2011 at 01:29 AM
Yes, A Cappella and Charis are independent bookstores that are much closer to your Virginia-Highland duplex than Eagle Eye. Not to knock Eagle Eye, just to point out that we in 30306 have an abundance of indie options that can use neighbor support.
Rex Batson June 29, 2011 at 12:25 PM
While I bemoan the close of any independent book store, I was not surprised. I always felt like an intruder. The service was not rude, but indifferent. I asked for a specific title, a travel book. The woman behind the counter pointed towards an aisle and said, "Near the end." I don't want subservience. But I needed help.

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