Beloved Athens bookstore Normal Books will close its doors on July 20 after being open for two and a half years.
Owners Chris and Mary Eaton announced the closing in a Facebook post on July 1 and were met by cries of condolences and support from customers. For the owners, their employees and the store’s loyal customers, the closing is somber.
The closure comes only seven months after Avid Books closed its Prince Avenue location and about four months after the COVID-19 outbreak caused the University of Georgia’s campus to shut down.
The bookshop is welcoming customers until its closing day, and Mary Eaton said to remember to wear a face mask if you plan to stop by. There’s plenty of room inside the shop to social distance, she said.
One of the things Normal Books is known for in Athens is its low prices. The store specializes in “remainder books,” according to its Facebook page, which allows the prices to be heavily discounted. The low prices were one reason UGA alumnus Amaan Charaniya loved the bookstore, he said.
Charaniya, who graduated in 2018, started going to the bookstore during his senior year at UGA, he said. He was immediately captivated by the store because the layout was different from other bookstores he’d visited, he said. The way the books were organized allowed him to wander the store for over half an hour. When he picked up a book for the first time and saw the price was only $4, he initially thought it had been labeled wrong.
Keeping prices low enables people to build their personal library without spending a fortune, Mary Eaton said. She said there are several reasons why it’s good to own books, but one is pretty straightforward.
“There's no substitute for holding and owning your own book,” Mary Eaton said.
Shannon Dominy, a 2016 UGA alumna and an employee at Normal Books, said the low prices are just one of the many ways the bookstore serves its community. Dominy, who studied English and journalism, said literature is one of the ways people feel seen. By providing books at low price points and helping customers find the perfect book, Normal Books helped people learn, she said.
Charaniya echoed this, saying while he loves libraries and borrowing books, owning books of your own is something special.
But the low prices aren’t the only thing special about Normal Books. The store served as a meeting place for multiple town organizations, such as the Athens Writers Association and Stitch and B*tch, a knitting and crochet club. Dominy, who’s in charge of social media and event planning at Normal Books, said one of the things she’s missed most since the initial coronavirus outbreak has been hosting events and talking to customers at the store.
During his last semester at UGA, Charaniya became a regular at Normal Books. He brought friends and family to the bookstore frequently, even his brother, who “hates books,” he said. Charaniya is an avid reader, and he has a goal to read a book from every country, he said. Normal Books helped him find international books he wouldn’t have found anywhere else, and even some favorites.
Charaniya said after a few months of coming in every other week, he felt like the owners started to recognize him. They were always “incredibly kind,” he said.
Interacting with customers is one of Mary Eaton’s favorite things about the store, she said. In the few years Normal Books has been open, she said she’s developed close relationships with many customers. She’s even watched customers’ babies go from strollers to walking on their own during her time at the store, she said.
“To [customers] who have been supportive, I can’t thank them enough,” Mary Eaton said.
Mary Eaton’s love for her customers isn’t one-sided. To many, the Eatons were the heart and soul of the store, cultivating a community for everyone.
Dominy, who worked at the store since July 2018, said Chris and Mary Eaton made her part of “the Normal Books family” from the start. Dominy said one of her favorite memories from the store was the first Halloween she spent working there. Mary Eaton came in with boxes of decorations and said, “This is what we’re doing today,” Dominy said.
“I never really felt like an employee with her bosses,” Dominy said. “We were just a team making the shop work as well as we could.”
Charaniya said the Eatons were fun to interact with and always nice to him. It felt good to buy books from them, he said. Even after his graduation from UGA, Charaniya would make special trips to Athens just to visit the store.
“I love their business model and I love the store that they have, but I especially love that they were the ones who owned it,” Charaniya said.