By Angela Milkie

Little Five Points mainstay Charis Books & More is growing and expanding despite the trend of brick and mortar bookstores closing around the country.

In business for more than 37 years, Charis is one of the last independent feminist bookstores in the country, and the oldest in the South. The shop is also the base for Charis Circle, a nonprofit organization created 15 years ago to help bring people together through community programs. Charis Circle offers author readings, book signings, writing groups for both teens and adults, and a number of reading groups focusing on gender and feminist related books and topics.

Charis Books & More and Charis Circle are planning to open a new feminist center in Atlanta in 2012, which means the little purple house on Euclid Avenue will be sold and the store will likely move out of Little Five Points.

I spoke with Kelley Alexander, Board Chair of Charis Circle, and Sara Luce Look, co-owner of Charis Books & More, to find out more about their upcoming plans.

Tell me about Charis Books. What is it like owning a feminist bookstore?

Sara: We love what we do, and we love getting information and books into people’s hands. We really believe books can and do change people’s lives. Our bestsellers are consistently multicultural children’s books, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (GLBTQ) topics, political and global nonfiction and literary fiction.

Tell me about Charis Circle.

Kelley: Charis Circle was created in 1996 as a nonprofit sister organization to Charis Books and More. The goal of the nonprofit has always been to expand program offerings, particularly those that are offered free to the community. Charis Circle is funded mainly through individual giving efforts and foundation gifts. Our mission revolves around sustainable feminist communities, social justice and providing a platform for diverse and marginalized voices.

Why have you decided to build the new feminist center?

Kelley: Pursuant to our mission of sustainability, the move is a product of necessity in the current economy. We all know what’s happening to independent bookstores, feminist bookstores even more so. I think at last count, there are 15 feminist bookstores in the U.S. and Canada, down from a few hundred over the last 20 years.

Why is Charis important to the Atlanta community?

Kelley: Charis has always been this wonderful, small independent bookstore that has offered the community free programming through the nonprofit Charis Circle, but more than that, has offered a space for diverse groups of people to engage and connect on the common ground of social justice and feminism. Over the years, our vision has grown larger than what we can offer in the current space. This move is important because we’ll be able to offer the place of connection that has always been Charis’ strength and expand the footprint of the communities we serve.

What are your hopes for the new center?

Kelley: In addition to adding a café, we plan to have a large theater space for events, some child-friendly space, and office space to rent to like-minded nonprofits. The larger goal is to become a community hub. We want to give people reasons to come all the time, not just for programs. We already see Charis as a place in Atlanta that brings people together in the community, and we are excited about expanding that vision.

How will the new center change and enhance the bookstore? How will it change and enhance Charis Circle?

Sara: We are in the process of rethinking what it means to be a feminist bookstore in these times. We are excited by the possibilities of a new space and new energy.

Kelley: The new space will give priority to the nonprofit side of things. We are essentially flipping our model to a nonprofit center that offers books and book activities through Charis Books.

Where will the new location be?

Kelley: We’re not sure yet. but we’re probably looking to move away from Little Five Points. We don’t know a space in the area that can support our big idea, and we are currently challenged by not having enough parking. We want to be in a high-traffic, retail location, and we are actively looking for a generous donor who believes in our vision and has just the right building to donate to Charis Circle.

What are current and future volunteer opportunities and events with Charis Books, Charis Circle, and the new feminist center?

Kelley: We’re taking a “Team Charis” approach and enlisting the support of community members to provide specific expertise during our big transition. We currently have around 72 volunteers who have agreed to help with various tasks such as marketing, fundraising, and programming, to name a few focus areas.

If you are interested in volunteering or have questions, ideas, etc., you can email Kelley Alexander at kelley@chariscircle.org. For more about Charis Books, visit charisbooksandmore.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.