The first time I walked through their doors during the Decatur Book Festival many years ago, I could see that this bookstore was doing more than selling Children's and Young Adult books. They were promoting a literary community in Decatur for children, adults, and even dogs (more on the dogs later). Little Shop of Stories is the type of bookstore that I walk into knowing I'm going to end up finding at least one or two things I have to buy. It's the type of place I recommend to friends whenever they're visiting from out of town and looking for something fun to do. Because, as corny as this might sound, it's more than a bookstore. It's a fun place to be.
This past weekend while I was in Atlanta visiting friends and family, I had an opportunity to sit down with Justin Colussy-Estes to talk more about Little Shop of Stories, what makes this store so awesome, and its connection to the Decatur community.
When I mentioned to Justin that I first discovered Little Shop of Stories when I wandered in during the Decatur Book Festival, he explained to me that, "the book festival is here [in Decatur] in part because the guys that started it did all this research and this is one of the highest concentrations of reading populations, certainly in Atlanta, but also in Georgia and regionally." And yet despite that, there were no bookstores to speak of in downtown Decatur before Little Shop of Stories. That's where store owners Dave and Diane came in to open this shop, a store that appeals to kids, young adults, and adults, despite being first and foremost a children's bookstore.
"Most bookstores are 80% adult books and 20% kids books, I’m guessing, but we flip that," Justin told me. "So we do have adult books, but only probably about 20%. But that means that we don’t have to be everything to anybody. We select our books based on what we think our customers will want." I have certainly never had difficulty finding a title I want at Little Shop of Stories, and I think a lot of that has to do with the carefully selected and displayed books. All of them seem personally curated, so I never have to wade through a stack of boring books to get to the fun stuff. Everything on their shelves looks good.
Justin explained to me why this 80/20 model works so well for them: "Customers trust us in terms of books for their kids, so that carries over and they trust us for our adult selections as well. We don’t have to have everything. We just have to try to make sure the books we have are things we’re passionate about and that we serve the community in that way.”
Little Shop of Stories also serves the community through constantly hosting events such as author signings, book clubs, story times, sleepovers, and summer camps (just to name a few). On the left, you can see their line-up of 2018 Summer Camps, starting with Camp Be the Change, a summer camp for young political activists, on May 29-June 1, and ending with Camp Hogwarts (if you can't figure out what that camp is about, then we're not friends), July 30-August 3.
If your kids can't hold out for summer camps to get in on the Little Shop of Stories Action, there's a Little Shop Slumber Party April 27-28 for girls currently in the 3rd-5th grade. All proceeds will benefit On The Same Page, a community-wide reading initiative, bringing families together around the same book. o there's a lot of super cool kids-only events happening in the store basically all the time.
But grown-ups, there's plenty of fun stuff for you to get involved in at the shop as well. They have five book groups that are exclusively for adults. There's a Not So YA Book Club for those of us who are grown ups but still enjoy a good YA book every now and then. There's also a Poetry & Wine Club, which they describe as a very "non-pretentious" group of adults getting together to drink wine and talk about poetry.
On Thursday, March 29, the guys at Little Shop of Stories are hosting an evening of conversation with Leslie Odom, Jr., Tony/Grammy award winner and now author of the book Failing Up, at Gaines Auditorium in Presser Hall of Agnes Scott College. Tickets are still available, and tickets come with a pre-signed copy of the book. For more information on this and other upcoming events, check out their event page here.
If you're more of a chill type person who doesn't want to get involved in big ticket events and just wants to hang out at a pretty bookstore, Little Shop of Stories has you covered there too. "We had two customers in here an hour ago. Today’s their anniversary," Justin said. "They were able to take time off from work, and they were like, ‘We just wanted to hang out so we came here to buy books.’ They come here, and they know that they’ll get a breather, and the book they saw out of the corner of their eye while they were chasing their toddler around the store will be here." And really, is there anything more romantic than shopping for books with the person you love most?
Speaking of special someones, Little Shop of Stories has even hosted a wedding in their event space before for a couple who met at one of their book clubs. And here's where the dogs come back into the picture. On the day of the Royal Wedding, Little Shop of Stories hosted a Royal Dog Wedding for two of their lovely canine customers. Justin informed me they'll actually be renewing their vows soon, so look out for more information on that, animal lovers.
I absolutely love everything about Little Shop of Stories: the general aesthetics of the store that make it so fun to browse, their activism for both children and adults, their connection to the community, and their connection to the schools. Justin told me, “We have a tight connection to the schools [in Decatur] because we know that community is why we thrive.” In solidarity with students around the country today, they opened at 10:18am rather than their regular time at 10am to stand outside for one minute for every life lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
After my visit to Little Shop of Stories this past weekend, I left the store the way I always leave it, a little bit happier, with a little bit more faith in the community, and obviously with a couple new books as well. This time, I bought The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin and Warcross by Marie Lu. You can buy these two titles and much more in store or in their new online store (click the links above).
I'd like to thank Little Shop of Stories for being so great, and special thanks to Justin Colussy-Estes for taking the time to speak with me.