Starting off our Decatur Book Festival bookstore feature this month is Eagle Eye Books, voted Atlanta’s Best Indie Bookstore in 2009. I’m embarrassed to admit that I never once visited Eagle Eye Books when I was a college student in Decatur. As an English major the opportunities for pleasure reading were few, and back then my Indie escapes tended more toward coffee shops and CD stores (my favorite of which, I was relieved to find out, is still around).
So back for the first time in three years it was a delight to finally peruse the miles of new, used, rare and collectible books.
Charles Robinson, co-owner and store events manager is on his lunch break when I arrive. In the meantime, I browse the Classics section. Pausing over the gorgeous new cloth bound edition of Middlemarch from Penguin I have an internal debate about how much I love George Elliot. At the desk behind me two booksellers are sorting through a pile of recently acquired used books and provide the obligatory commentary.
“Another one about zen,” says the one. “We almost have enough zen books to make a new section.”
When Robinson returns we head to the reading room, a spacious meeting area in the back of the store with plush thrift store couches and an old Underwood typewriter set up enticingly at the entrance. In the next thirty minutes we will talk about the future of bookstores, Amazon’s questionable business practices, the importance of adapting to technology, and the “youth of today.” We’ll talk about the Decatur Book Festival too. To illustrate its significance for Eagle Eye Books, Robinson jokes: “Our employees know when we hire them that they absolutely have to work that weekend. Between running the store and off-campus events, it’s all hands on deck.”
Events are an important focus for Eagle Eye, evidenced by the full calendar of author signings, book clubs and writing classes advertised on posters throughout the store and on their website.
“That’s something you can’t replicate on the internet. They [Amazon] can’t replicate meeting your favorite author, getting your book signed, buying a copy for a friend. That’s one thing we try to focus on.”
Asked if the rise of eReader technology and the decline of book sales give him cause for concern, he shrugs.
“Personally I feel like it’s not an all out war: regular books vs. ebooks; brick and mortar bookstores vs. Amazon. I think there’s enough room for the entities to coexist.”
“I don’t think change is something to beat our heads against. We really need to flow with it. We have a great website and we’re heavily into social media, and in that way, I love it [technology]. On the other hand, this internet mindset is problematic. It surprises people but not all information that’s ever been written is on the internet.”
Do kids know that, he wonders? That there is knowledge in books that has not and may never be copied over to the internet? Also concerning for Robinson is the issue of ‘Free.’
“There’s kind of a mindset with younger people that they should be able to get everything for free or for very little, which is dangerous. Because then it’s just like with the music industry and the piracy issues. Once you get piracy involved it’s a new game.”
Despite Robinson’s relaxed manner, it’s clear that they’ve worked hard to flow with the changes.
“You have to adapt to the situation. I’m not ashamed to say we have an Amazon store. Everything on there is the same price as in our store and we ship books out every day. We have to be smarter, more effective and in that way I look at it as a positive thing. In a kind of Darwinian way. We’re doing every thing we can to stay apace of the change and carve out our niche.”
With a loyal customer base and a great location (on the busy intersection of Clairmont Road and N. Decatur Road, between Emory University and Agnes Scott College, and just a mile from downtown Decatur, host of the largest independent book festival in the country), Robinson feels both fortunate and optimistic.
“The thing you need to look at as an independent store is your involvement in the community. Focus on your five mile radius and reach out to that community. Events like Decatur Book Festival let people know who we are, what we do and why they should care. I think a lot of people appreciate local businesses but take them for granted. Then once they’re gone, they miss them.”