A deceased grandma’s rocking chair, 873 history books, a lifelong dream and a location just barely big enough to house it all: these are the ingredients that created Dahlonega’s used bookstore.
Bear Book Market, located on 21 North Grove Street, Suite B, is the town’s newest place to find used books, having opened its doors for business during Gold Rush weekend. Clay Anderson, a history professor at Reinhardt University and the store’s owner, felt he was the perfect fit to fill the bookstore-sized hole in the heart of Dahlonega’s historic district.
“I came up here and started talking to people and they said that they used to have [a bookstore] here and it closed, but it didn’t close because nobody went there,” Anderson said. “It’s been closed for about 15 years, but it closed because the guy retired so he stopped the business, so I knew this place wants a bookstore and that they need a bookstore and then when there is a bookstore, people will go to the bookstore.”
And so far that seems to have been the sentiment.
“I was thrilled to find out that this was here,” said Maria Morris, a local writer and book enthusiast. “
Yet the birth of the store itself was equally as exciting as its existence.
“I’ve always wanted to open up a bookstore, but there’s that big difference between wanting to open up a bookstore and taking the steps,” Anderson said. “And so how it got about is I just decided this is something I wanted to do. Because I teach history, and I went through graduate school, I have so many books. And I counted and just my history genre books I had 853 books. That was just what I had to have for graduate school and I was never going to use them again. And so I just started thinking what’s some way and I was like ‘I could open up a used book store.’”
And from there, all it took was the slight mention of a potential bookstore to his sister, who then took to social media. The rest was…history.
“So she got on there and she was like ‘if anybody is looking to get rid of books or donate books, we’ll come by and pick them up’ and with what was just a random post, I ended up having 5,000 books,” Anderson said. “That was how I got a whole bunch of my inventory.”
Clay’s dad, and an employee at Bear Book Market, David Anderson was surprised by the response as well.
“You get things you don’t imagine, and these were things that were just given to us,” he said. “A lot of cookbooks didn’t make it through the purge.”
Between the donated books and becoming a frequent attendee at various library book sales across the area, Clay soon had inventory for a full bookstore. And a problem.
“I had no location,” he said. “I just started getting all these things together and I didn’t have a place.”
And that’s where Dahlonega stepped in, specifically Kym and Colby Strom, who recently purchased the lots adjacent to their store, Gateway Antiques, and quickly found Anderson, who became their first new tenant.
“I started collecting books in June and we opened up during Gold Rush, and I just figured out that I was going to get the place on October 1st, so I was scrambling to get everything ready, but it worked out,” Clay said.
The store sits on the north edge of the historic district. Clay estimates there’s between 1,000 and 1,500 books on the sales floor, which is about the size of a two-car garage, giving the small store a nice cozy atmosphere.
“The end goal was to have this place be completely surrounded by books,” he said.
Atmosphere is an important part in the bookstore business these days, as readers seem to be straying back to the crisp pages of books instead of the reading convenience of their electronic device. For today’s dedicated readers, the experience is crucial and Bear Book Market definitely has an experience all its own.
“I do feel like there’s that movement back to just going in and sitting in a bookstore, sitting in my dead grandmother’s rocker, and reading a book. She died in that chair, so she’s always with us.”
As for the name, Bear Book Market was inspired by a painting Clay discovered in a bargain store in Jasper. One glimpse at the painted wood canvas and he had found his soulmate, or at least the bookstore’s mascot.
“If there was a fire and I only had time to grab one thing, I’d grab the bear,” he said.
One interesting aspect of the store is that amongst the books, sitting somewhere between the early editions of literary classics and the latest editions by today’s popular authors, is a book by Clay himself. The Palms is a fictional novel published by Adelaide Books, released this past August, right in the middle of Clay’s quest to open Bear Book Market.
“I never started out to be an author. I went to graduate school and got my history degree and started teaching and I was at a place in my life where I needed to be creative,” Clay said. “Being a history teacher, there’s not a whole lot of creativity that goes into teaching college, so I just had this idea and I started writing and I sort of told myself I was going to write and I sat down and wrote it.”
Clay describes the book as “a redemptive story” which asks readers if people can be redeemed and forgiven, regardless of what their past holds.
“It wasn’t so much a religious idea, because the book is not a religious book,” he said. “It’s like, can people do really bad things in their life and still be good people?”
KEEPING IT KID-FRIENDLY
Another point of emphasis in Clay’s bookstore was to encourage younger readers as well as veteran readers.
“I really wanted to have a kid’s area, so I made a little, I call it the kids’ corner, and have kids come in because kids’ books are crazy expensive,” he said. “… So it’s just a way for parents to have a place where they can come in and spend $20 and have 10 books that their kid can read through, so it’s just an inexpensive way to help their kids to read.”
Helping with the expenses of reading at any level is a large part of Clay’s mission.
“I know that Dahlonega hasn’t had a bookstore in like 10 years, so I’m trying to feed the market of enabling a lot of people to be able to come in and buy books and be introduced to new authors that you don’t want to fork a lot of money into,” he said. “Books are just so expensive. Even with Amazon and stuff like that, it’s 10 bucks a pop, so all of the books I sell here, I make sure that they’re below the price on Amazon. Nothing here is above Amazon.”
MORE THAN SELLING BOOKS
Although the lower prices will keep customers happy, Clay seems more interested in building a community than a customer base.
“I’m really trying to open up, to make this be more than just a bookstore. To have this be something more aligned with something that will help out with the community in a way, and for people who want to be creative. Dahlonega is one of those hubs of creativity in north Georgia, and people just need to know that there’s ways you can tap into it,” he said.
With the goal of community in mind, Bear Book Market has a book club that meets monthly and looks to have open readings where writers can come together and share what they’re working on and receive help or feedback.
“I’ve met so many people who are like, ‘I want to write a novel,’” he said. “The only thing keeping you from doing that is you and not putting it to paper and not writing it. I know what it’s like to get rejection letters, it took me three years to write that book and two of them were getting rejections. So just to have somebody who can sit in here and be like ‘look, I’ve been through what you’ve been through. You want to try and get your work published, let’s talk about it.’ This place is a good place for it.”
NORTH SIDE, REPRESENT
In order to build that community in his store, Clay has a big obstacle in his path: location.
“The difficult thing, for me, is the fact that I’m so north of the square. I’m technically in historical downtown, so I can tell people that,” Clay said. “But the reality is, I’m like a block away from downtown.”
But similar to the idea of redemption explored in his book, Clay and the other merchants on the north side of the square are hoping to redeem their block and bring it back to the luster of its glory days. Kym and Colby, who were excited about the bookstore’s arrival as their first new tenant, are trying to lead the charge to restore the area.
“We want this whole corner that we now own to be revitalized and we want it to look gorgeous again,” said Kym.
“I would love to have the north end of Dahlonega be where people come and they don’t just walk around the square, they come up here,” Clay said.
Opening the bookstore seems to be a step in the right direction for the north side, and Clay feels confident in his small part of the larger picture.
“Dahlonega has a bookstore again,” he said. “And we’re going to be doing more than just selling books.”
For more information about Bear Book Market or its events, visit bearbookmarket.com.