Indie Feature: Book Lady Bookstore

Last week we took a mini-vacation to Savannah, yet another southern city where the main attraction seems to be the food. Thankfully, the colonial port city still boasts a grid of manicured squares and cobblestoned streets along which tourists can walk off the pounds of buttered biscuits and fried green tomatoes.

Many of you had recommended the Book Lady Bookstore to me before our trip, and so, naturally, we had to stop by for a visit. You were right. The shop did not disappoint.

Book Lady Bookstore is exactly the kind of old world bookstore you’d expect to find in London or Paris. Tucked away under a set of stone steps on the sidewalk level of historic E. Liberty Street in Savannah, you have to duck a little so as not to knock your head on the door lintel. Once inside, you then must watch your step as the floor drops a surprising foot onto creaking wooden floors. It’s quirky right from the word “Go,” just as a bookstore should be.

Everywhere you look, there are vintage movie posters and old black and white photography of authors and musicians, infusing the antique look of the place with a college town, beatnik vibe. Later in my visit I remark to Joni, who is the shop’s most recent book lady, that I was a good twenty minutes into my visit before noticing that all the titles were used. Yes, I’d noticed the gorgeous rare books displayed in prominence throughout the shop, but somehow finding something current (current, in my mind, I now realize, had previously equated with relevant or interesting) was not a pressing concern in this place as it might be in less well stocked used bookstores. The store is a treasure trove of hand picked titles, intentionally curated with the aim of connecting visitor with book, magically, it seemed at times. If the sign of a successful new independent bookstore is that it makes each customer feel as though every title in the shop was selected especially for them, then I believe the sign of a successful used bookstore is to fill the shop with titles the customer never knew they wanted, indeed, never knew existed, but now realize they can’t live without.

Joni insists the look and stock of her shop are essential components of her business model. The look is important, she says, for visitors to feel like they’ve truly escaped their modern, electronic lives and entered a magical world of books.

The entire space resembles the stuffy, dusty, attic library of the British uncle you always wished you had, only without the stuffiness and, in this case, the library has been dusted. Being in this space, I realize that the smell, the dust and the apparent lack of care given to books in some used bookstores had, in the past, turned me off to them, halted my explorer’s spirit and made me long for the immaculate new releases shelf of a new titles bookstore. But as Joni reminded me, her business was doing well because she deals in used books where the profit margin is much higher than new.

“I honestly don’t know how new bookstores survive when they’re only getting a %40 discount maximum from publishers.”

As we saw yesterday, many don’t.

Joni recently added the chic coffee bar where customers can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee while they peruse – a stylistic addition to the space that, Joni says, is infrequently used, but pays for itself. It’s one of the first things people see when they walk in, Joni says. Most people don’t order coffee, but it lends itself to the ambiance of the place which colors the visitor’s experience in a positive way.

The Book Lady renewed my explorer’s spirit. I found that I was drawn to sections and books that I’m not normally drawn to. One book I was particularly excited to have found was this 1959 French edition of The Owl and the Pussycat. Not only does this book have significance for Luke and me as it played a part in our marriage proposal, but the illustration style reminds me of my other favorite children’s book from that time, The Happy Lion.

Have you ever been to the Book Lady Bookstore? Which bookstore sweeps you away every time you visit it? I’d love to hear.

  1. Chad said:

    I lived a block from the Book Lady for two years while in grad school, but I didn’t go enough. This was several years ago, and my main memory, unfortunately, was lots of dust/stuffiness. It sounds like that has changed, though. As you said, the look of the store itself (inside and out) is quite cool. I’m about to be back in Savannah again, and I plan to visit more frequently.

    • Erin said:

      Chad – it may have been the case that it was a bit dustier and stuffy back then. It came under new ownership in the past couple years and I know Joni focused quite a bit on improving the look and feel of the shop. It’d be well worth a return visit when you are back in Savannah. Enjoy!

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