By any measure, a small business that has endured for 40 years is something to celebrate. The fact that it’s a bookstore – and a specialized one at that – in this age of Amazon and eBooks makes the anniversary even more special.
The oldest feminist bookstore in the south and one of the few remaining in the country, Charis Books & More has been a landmark in Little Five Points since it opened its doors in 1974. For the last 20 years, it’s occupied the little purple house on Euclid Avenue in the heart of the neighborhood.
Before the global financial crisis, there was talk of possibly moving Charis to Decatur for more space and better parking, but the nonprofit Charis Circle board, now under the direction of Elizabeth Anderson, steered the conversation back to Little Five Points.
“Of course, we would like more space, more parking and be closer to a MARTA station, but being in Little Five is a large part of Charis’ heart and soul, “ Anderson said. “Rather than move, we decided to focus on what’s special about this space. That and we had customers telling us, ‘we don’t want you to move.’”
While Charis’ roots are firmly planted in Little Five Points, weathering the upheaval in how people consume books has been a tougher issue to navigate. Amazon has disrupted the old idea of stopping by your local, independent bookstore to pick up the latest bestseller.
“If you bought one book a month from Charis, it would make a big difference,” said store co-owner Sara Luce Look.
Both Anderson and Look, as well as the small staff, take pride in “curating” the selection of books at Charis to fit what their customers and the community wants. The shop has also seriously upped the number of in-store events thanks to Charis Circle, which was created in 1996 to help expand the shop’s programming. Look recalls in the early days of Charis, they had about four programs a month.
“We’re hosting 15 to 20 a month now, whether it’s a book signing, workshops or community talks,” Look said.
Anderson said part of Charis’ mission is to introduce Intown to a new writer, poet or activist working for social change. Charis has also stepped into the eBook arena, providing a full catalogue of titles through its website (charisbooksandmore.com) through the Kobo platform. Anderson said they regularly work with local and indie authors to help them format their books for Kobo. It’s just another part of Charis’ outreach.
Charis is acquiring equipment to videotape many of its in-store events to post online (one of the biggest requests by customers) and has also been reaching out to other organizations on how to partner as part of a “Listening Campaign.”
“We want to hear the concerns and issues of other groups and see how we can work together – whether it’s setting up a book table at your local synagogue or helping to spread the word about HIV/AIDS issues,” Anderson said. “We want to be a community resource for the next 40 years.”
Of course fundraising is an important part of keeping the doors open at Charis, so they are currently encouraging supporters to make a pledge of $40 a month. There’s also a drive to find “40 for the 40th – 40 donors willing to give a gift of $1,000 each.
Charis is planning a full slate of events November to celebrate its 40th anniversary, including readings, a keynote event featuring Kiese Laymon and Susana Morris on Nov. 7 and an in-store sale and a big fundraising party at The Marianna above the Wrecking Bar on Nov. 8. “We really want to make the week of events in November a national, feminist homecoming party at Charis,” Anderson said. “We’re excited to see so many of our old friends.”
For a complete schedule of 40th anniversary events, visit charisbooksandmore.com.