The Next Chapter Bookstore at the Main Street Market in downtown Gainesville was full of chatting and laughter Friday as Gainesville residents picked out books to add to their home collections.
With stacks of books in hand, people lined up across the small store as Randy’s House residents of Our Neighbor checked prices and managed the register.
It’s like a real business for them.
“I have one word to say: Wow,” said Martin White, Our Neighbor’s new executive director, during Friday’s grand opening for the store. “It’s great that everyone came out, even despite the rainstorm.”
Next Chapter Bookstore is the newest outreach program of Our Neighbor, an organization that offers housing on Prior Street and opportunities for physically handicapped men and women.
The bookstore comes from the brains of Our Neighbor founder Marty Owens and volunteer D’ete Sewell, previous owner of Ralph Waldo’s Vintage Bookstore in Gillsville.
“This bookstore is the culmination of a vision to provide education and job training for these young men,” White said. “They can work here and feel productive.”
Local residents walked around the store Friday afternoon, scanning the shelves for a treasure.
“I came with a friend who has been supportive of Our Neighbor from the start, and I also came to see the books,” Joy Crowe said. “I try to buy from local authors.”
Crowe picked up a book from Alma Bowen, who joined Michael McNeilly, Harv Nowland, Brad Strickland and Andy Whitener in signing their books. The five local authors lined the pathway from the front door of Main Street Market to the bookstore.
“I was one of the first people to buy books here,” Bowen said with a laugh. “I went in before they even had all the books on the shelves.”
Bowen was excited to see supporters stop and talk to the local authors.
“You can get addicted to reading books by local people,” she said. “You may know some of the people, you know the places and you probably know the happenings.”
McNeilly brought out one of his children’s books about Amos McCool, a character his grandmother created for bedtime stories. McNeilly’s daughters and friends crowded around his table.
“The book shows that to get what you want, you have to work, and Amos wants a bike,” he said. “He earns it and loves it but gives it away in the end to a friend who is sick. The book is about being generous, and discussion questions in the back can help parents talk to their children about being responsible and handling money.”
One of the girls complimented McNeilly’s “great business,” and he realized students may learn from the entrepreneurial aspect of local authors as well.
“I didn’t expect to see that,” he said. “Maybe now it’s something she’ll think about doing. She could start her own business.”
A few residents trickled into the bookstore after trekking through the rain at the Market on the Square, including market organizer Steven Thomas, who helped Our Neighbor with some of the bookstore’s graphic design.
“This is a volunteer community,” he said. “People do what they can to help.”
Gainesville City Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras noticed the difference the bookstore makes for the Randy’s House residents who work a few days each week.
“You see the joy in the eyes of these young people,” she said. “I told them it’ll open doors for them in Gainesville, and help them make a little money.”