The Bookshelf and Gallery: A South Georgia Staple

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A part of Thomasville, Georgia, since 1984, The Bookshelf and Gallery has undergone many transformations but has always maintained its same purpose, said co-owner Annie Jones, “to celebrate good books and good conversations in a small-town setting.”

Five years ago, Katie Chastain and her husband, Scott, took over the bookstore, and “they made it what it is today,” said Jones, and that included bringing the inventory up to date and creating a gathering place for the community. “They spent a lot of time and effort making it a Main Street staple.”

Jones, who had been a regular customer of The Bookshelf for years, began working as a manager of the store’s second location, which opened last year in nearby Tallahassee. When the Chastains turned their attention to expanding their family (Katie had their second child earlier this week), they decided to close the Tallahassee store and offered Jones the opportunity to become co-owner and managing partner of the Thomasville store, with a plan to eventually buy them out.

“I personally have hopes that Tallahassee hasn’t seen the last of The Bookshelf,” said Jones, adding that though there’s no longer a storefront, the bookstore still hosts events in Tallahassee and sells books at author signings. The large population of readers –– including many college students –– “makes me hopeful they could embrace The Bookshelf again one day,” she said.

Co-owner Annie Jones reads to The Bookshelf's storytime audience.

Before The Bookshelf, Jones was working as a writer and editor for a legal association, but books have always played an important role in her life. “Running a bookstore is a dream I’ve had since watching Meg Ryan hang twinkle lights in You’ve Got Mail,” she said. “Making the leap from the corporate world to the small business world hasn’t been without its struggles or stresses, but so far? It’s been worth it.”

One of Jones’ favorite duties is writing posts for the store’s blog, which allows her to feature some of the bookstore’s non-book products, what she loves about them, and how they fit the Bookshelf’s particular brand.

“My background is in communications, and I think, for small businesses and independent bookstores especially, social media and blogging are great, inexpensive ways to get the word out about your business, and it’s a fun way to connect with customers.”

Just this month, the town of Thomasville began a “One Book” program, which has brought together several community groups –– the library, the two local universities, the Center for the Arts, Main Street merchants, and the bookstore –– with the common goal of promoting literacy in the community. September’s book is Mitch Albom’s The Time Keeper.

With the program’s partners, The Bookshelf has hosted musical events, art walks, life-sized board game competitions, book discussions, and academic lectures that focused on the themes in the book. “Thomasville has completely embraced the idea,” said Jones. “The beauty of running a business in a small town is all the ways the business can become such an integral part of the community.”

The “One Book” program has had palpable effects on the store too, said Jones. “Because of our presence in downtown Thomasville, we’ve seen a definite increase in traffic, and the buzz and hype of the event has certainly been noticeable in the store.”

To conclude the month-long celebration, Mitch Albom is visiting the town today, September 26, to read and discuss The Time Keeper at the Center of the Arts.

The Bookshelf has many more events coming up, including a screening of the new Alice Walker documentary, Beauty in Truth, as part of the town’s film festival, and it will be participating in the town’s Victorian Christmas, which is held every year.

“I’m constantly surprised by how busy this job keeps me,” said Jones. But even though it gets overwhelming, The Bookshelf remains her favorite local spot, as it was when she was a customer. “That magic hasn’t worn off. The Bookshelf is still just a lovely place to be.”