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Downtown bookstore offers jobs to disabled young adults
Mark McIntire puts a book on the shelf at the Next Chapter Book Store in the Main Street Market in downtown Gainesville. - photo by Tom Reed

These books are ripe for the picking.

In a cozy corner of the Main Street Market on the downtown Gainesville square, a new used bookstore is opening up to give jobs to young adults with disabilities.

All the books are on the shelves, workers are ready to go and a handful of customers have trickled into the store to preview the newest addition to the market.

Next Chapter Book Store 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.

“We had nowhere for these guys to work, and the only thing I know is books,” Sewell said. “So I started asking for donations and looked around for a place to put the books.”

The plans have been years in the works. The group bought property near downtown Gainesville in December 2008 to restore a 1930s-era house into a bookstore and coffee shop, but Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department needed the property to replace the storm drain and sewer line underneath it. There was no way to replace the utilities without removing the house, so Our Neighbor went on another search for a place to open business.

Sewell contacted her friend Ronda Sailors, owner of The Bookstand in Northeast Georgia, and shipped off some of their donated books to sell. Sailors split sales of the books with Our Neighbor, and the guys spent time sorting through donated books, categorizing them and pricing them.

Recently, Debra Harkrider, owner of the Main Street Market building, offered a donation of her own — a reduced rent to help the group make the longtime dream a reality.

“Now the guys can interact, have lunch, get around town and talk to people who come in,” Sewell said. “It helps Gainesville residents to get used to being around people with disabilities, too.”

The largest donation came from Frances Mathis — 2,000 books from her husband James Mathis’ library. The workers sorted through the books and sell ones worth more than $30 online. Sewell was amazed by his collection of books about Georgia, the South and Native Americans.

“I walked in and saw the collection, and the guys told me to close my mouth,” she said with a laugh. “It’s just amazing because you don’t get to be around books like that. It really helped the quality of our stock.”

Next Chapter also received donations from Lanier Village Estates and is collaborating with Interactive Neighborhood for Kids to sell children’s books.

The bookstore is separated into nonfiction categories — gardening, cookbooks, sports, pets, pregnancy, biography, politics and more — and various fiction genres.

“This room is small and cozy and gives the guys a place to be,” said Vicki Sims, a member of the Our Neighbor program committee. “I like the quietness. You can come in and find your place and a book.”

The young men working in the store are happy to have some purpose.

“I’ve been working the cash register, pricing books and shelving books by their categories,” said Mark McIntire, 24. “It’s going slowly but surely, and it gives me something to do during the day. I like helping out.”

For some of the workers, it’s their first job.

“Right now, I’m helping to get things going and helping the guys on the computer, or whatever needs to be done,” said Brian Jones, 42, while placing books on shelves Thursday. “We want these guys to know how to keep it running and be independent.”

The store will hold a grand opening July 16 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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