The oldest feminist bookstore in the country is seeking a buyer for its building.
Charis Books & More has operated in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood for 22 of its 41 years.
Charis’ Elizabeth Anderson says both the bookstore and its associated nonprofit, Charis Circle (of which she is executive director), are doing very well.
“It’s not a desperate move," Anderson says. "It’s not because we can’t do anything else. Book sales are up ... You don’t move from a place of weakness. You move from a place of strength.”
Charis is considering several options. The first is selling its current building and partnering with an organization such as a university, nonprofit or arts organization.
“We’re also talking to folks who are interested in owning our building and letting us stay in it,” Anderson says. A third option would be to get an outside organization to invest in the current building while Charis shares it “as an activist space with additional tenants.”
Anderson says Charis Circle is interested in strengthening its role as a supportive organization for the city’s other nonprofit efforts: “We are a place where a lot of Atlanta artists and activists and writers come to get their sustenance so they can go out and do more work in the city. And so we’re trying to figure out how you survive as an institution while supporting other people.”
Anderson says that no matter what path they choose, Charis will maintain a bookstore, remain a public feminist space and continue to offer its considerable community programming.
Around the continent, the number of feminist bookstores are dwindling. In the mid-1990s, when she got her start at Charis, Anderson says there were about 120 feminist bookstores in the United States and Canada. Today, there are 12 or 13, and Charis is the nation’s oldest.
But there are some signs the tide may be turning.
“What’s interesting in this moment in 2016, is that feminism is sort of on-the-rise in pop culture," Anderson says. "People are using the word ‘feminism’ to describe themselves in a way that hasn’t happened for a decade or more.”
Anderson says that Charis’s feminist identity will always be paramount. However, she maintains, the key to making sure the store flourishes for years to come actually has less to do with feminism than with what she calls “book culture.” The one-on-one interaction that takes place in-store just does not happen online.
Anderson says the store expects to have plans for future in place by the end of 2016.