By Bob Townsend
A Cappella Books in Little Five Points celebrates 20 years of business with a festival Dec. 5-6 featuring Atlanta authors and musicians.
Atlanta native and University of Georgia grad Frank Reiss opened the full service new, used and rare book store Dec. 1, 1989, in a narrow storefront on Euclid Avenue. After managing Acorn Books in San Francisco for five years, Reiss returned home to create his version of the beloved antiquarian book shop.
“It was just me and a few old friends who chipped in to build the shelves and help stock them,” Reiss recalled in a recent interview.
Two decades and three neighborhood locations on, A Cappella has become a literary landmark in its own right — sponsoring readings with the likes of Salman Rushdie and Pat Conroy, spawning a small imprint, Everthemore Books, and becoming a favorite stop for musicians such as Bruce Springsteen.
A perfect fit for bohemian Little Five Points, the store is well known for its Beat literature shelves. Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is the all-time best-selling title. And down-and-out poet and novelist Charles Bukowski is a perennial favorite. But there are also progressive politics, the counterculture and, true to its name, an extensive selection of books about music.
Billed as the Weekend of 20 Authors, the anniversary program will present two authors each hour between noon and 5 p.m. each day, talking about their favorite books. Among them Marc Fitten, whose debut novel, “Valeria’s Last Stand,” has been an international best seller, will discuss the book that made him want to be a writer, Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer.” And Atlanta humorist Hollis Gillespie, author of “Trailer Trashed,” will explain what drew her to Joan Didion’s “Book of Common Prayer.” Look for musical performances by Slim Chance, Mudcat and Caroline Herring.
“Most of the authors and musicians who’ll be here for the anniversary are genuine friends,” Reiss said. Here’s more of what he had to say about 20 years of A Cappella.
Q: It’s no secret that independent bookstores, including Acorn Books, have been going out of business to the point that A Cappella is now a real rarity. How have you managed to survive?
A: I knew from the beginning that we had to stay small and lean to keep it going. The last 10 years and even more so the last five years have required constant responding to the way the world is changing. We started selling books online almost as early as it could be done. But our store had to become a well-defined and distinctive place with a real personality and sensibility. We have that A Cappella feeling [laughs].
Q: So you didn’t order the Sarah Palin book, did you?
A: We do not have a copy of the Sarah Palin book. No. We are really selective in picking the books that reflect our neighborhood, reflect our politics and reflect our artistic and literary sensibilities. Sometimes I take a stab at having something more mainstream, but best sellers aren’t our market.
Q: You seem to draw a lot of musicians and other interesting people to the store, don’t you?
A: Two people who shop at my store are Bruce Springsteen and Neko Case. And there’s Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, Leon Redbone and the members of Sonic Youth. Our biggest spending customer … is probably Geddy Lee of Rush. He’s an eclectic book collector. He likes Southern literature and Jewish authors, and he has a genuine appreciation for old books.
Q: Do you worry about the future?
A: I’m determined to celebrate and be proud and happy, and I am all of those things. But realistically, it doesn’t look like a real promising business from here on out. If I came to the decision that I couldn’t do this anymore, I would be really sad, because I really do love it.