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Our Neighbor: Plans for a bookstore still on the shelf
Advocacy group still finds ways to sell its books
Randy’s House residents Mike Reno and Jason Hare navigate through their inventory of used books. - photo by Michael Phillips
Mike Reno knows how to sell Stephen King novels.

If Gainesville’s sewer plans had not run right through Our Neighbor Inc.’s desire to refashion a 1930s-era house into a bookstore and coffee shop, Reno would be doing that today.

Nearly three months after finding out Books & Beans couldn’t open because of the Gainesville project, the advocacy group for physically handicapped young adults has yet to find a suitable location, said Marty Owens, co-founder of Our Neighbor Inc. Despite the disappointment of having to shelve their plans for the bookstore, the guys at Randy’s House, a home for handicapped young adults, are still seeing a payday as their books sell at a used bookstore in Commerce.

Reno and his Randy’s House roommate, Jason Hare, spend some afternoons sorting through boxes of donated books, categorizing and pricing them. Most days, the books sit on the shelf in the guys’ home office, waiting to be sold.

But for the past two months, D’ete Sewell, a former board member for Our Neighbor, has loaded her sport utility vehicle once a month with some of the processed books and driven them to The Bookstand of Northeast Georgia in Commerce. She sells the books that are worth more than $25 online.

Reno and Hare got their first paychecks for $25 when the first round of books sold in April. It was a day to remember, and the guys posed for pictures with their earnings. Since that day, the men have received two more checks, and payday is becoming more regular.

"Finally, they’re getting a little check about every two weeks," Sewell said.

As books sell, Our Neighbor is finding that it will need more donated books and more milk crates to store the books.

For now, selling the books in Commerce is a good enough partnership for Our Neighbor and Ronda Sailors, the owner of The Bookstand of Northeast Georgia.

The residents of Randy’s House get some compensation for their work, and Sailors has more books to stock her fairly new 3,000-square-foot store.

"They’ve added a nice dimension to a starting out bookstore," Sailors said.

Still, Our Neighbor is not making the money it would have if Books & Beans had opened as planned in April. And the quick fix does not serve the purpose of having a place for the residents to go to work outside of Randy’s House.

"We’re losing business, because we had hoped to be open in April," Owens said.

The city and Owens still have not closed the property deal, although Owens said she believes Gainesville will pay a fair price. Meanwhile, Our Neighbor is still paying its mortgage.

"Our mortgage payment is due again; we don’t have the building, but we need to pay this," Owens said. "We’re paying on something we’re not going to be getting."

Until February, Our Neighbor thought it would have the bookstore up and running by spring. The organization bought the building in December and started renovations.

The group restored the roof, sanded the floors and removed the walls to open up the building. Then, Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department told Owens that the city needed the property to replace the storm drain and sewer line that runs beneath it.

The line serves the area from the post office on Green Street to Regions Bank on E.E. Butler Parkway.

After looking at all the options, there is no way to replace the utilities without removing the house, said Kelly Randall, director of Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department.

The city most likely will have paid Our Neighbor for the property in the next week, but even after the deal is done, the group will be searching for the ideal bookstore site.

Owens said Our Neighbor wants a reasonably priced building that benefits from walking traffic from a restaurant, "so we can kind of share customers, Owens explains.

The original location, near Two Dog Cafe and the Brenau University campus, was nearly perfect.

"We have not found another piece of property that we thought was just the right place," Owens said.

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