Bookspot of the Week: Underground Books

For this week’s bookspot, we reached out to Megan Bell and Josh Niesse, the co-owners of Underground Books.

Bookspot / Libraries
featured bookspot underground books

It’s that time again! For this week’s bookspot, we reached out to Megan Bell and Josh Niesse, the co-owners of Underground Books. This bookstore is literally underground, located several steps below street level in a hundred-year-old basement in historic downtown Carrollton, Georgia.

 

How did your bookstore transition from concept to reality?

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Honestly, it feels almost like the bookstore transitioned from reality to concept! Ten years ago this year, Josh decided to transform his hobby & side business of online bookselling into a real bookstore. Ten days after opening, Megan walked in and never left! The bookstore started very modestly; the quirky space had sat empty and neglected for years, and the owner at the time let Josh have it for a song in monthly rent as long as he fixed the place up. Over the years, the bookstore has grown with us! The building went up for sale in 2012, and we were able to crowdfund the down payment for our space while expanding into the adjacent one. After we married, we added the book arch which a friend made from damaged books for our wedding, and the inventive bookish features to our shop only increased from there! A few years ago we also opened a second satellite location called “Hills & Hamlets Bookshop” in the nearby planned eco-community of Serenbe.

 

What do you feel is unique to your bookstore?

We have a very unique space, being literally underground of course, with all the quirks and crannies of a hundred year old basement, and we’ve filled the space to the brim with books, floor to ceiling on every wall and in every corner. We are also known for our archway made of damaged books, which presided over our wedding in 2014 and now keeps watch over the bookshop, and we have a vintage fireplace stuffed with Hogwarts letters too, as well as an old world globe broken open and bursting with paper butterflies made from old book pages. Beyond that, it’s uncommon for a brick-and-mortar bookshop to stock not only used and new books but also vintage, rare, and antiquarian ones, and that’s our specialty! 

 

If you had infinite space, what might you add to the store?

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Oh, this is a favorite subject for our daydreams! Our most recent fantasy involved a glass elevator looking out over an elevator shaft decorated to look like you’re falling down the rabbit hole—we’re not sure where this elevator would go, since there’s a salon and spa above us, but we’re pretty sure we need one nonetheless. 

 

How do you feel your bookstore fits into your local community?

Carrollton is home to the University of West Georgia, and being in a little college town definitely inspires the nerdy and scholarly bent to our bookstore, but the University of West Georgia also has the only humanistic psychology program east of the Mississippi and one of a handful in the world, and that is definitely reflected in Underground Books’ devotion to the strange and offbeat. 

 

What does your store offer that a chain or online retailer can’t?

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OLD. BOOK. SMELL. A book fairy with wings made from old dictionary pages who flies around town and leaves free books every March for our anniversary. Recommendations from local therapists, professors, 8-year-old influencers, and university librarians. A groovy vintage mass market copy of a classic with your neighbor’s grandfather’s notes in it from when he was in high school. A couple of book lovers in love with each other and all the laugh lines added to their faces over the past ten years and the next ten!

 

Do you hand-pick your staff to create a specific environment?

We have a fondness for anyone who lights up when talking about what they’re currently reading, who knows their way around our idiosyncratic book sections, and who doesn’t mind flying around the shop on a broomstick for one of our videos! 

 

How else do you create a welcoming environment?

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Occasionally, some folks are a little daunted by the unusual experience of stepping down our worn old steps into the shop, but once they’re halfway down, we couldn’t possibly count the number of times and ways we’ve heard “Wow!” over the years. Our absolute favorite is when people say, “This is straight out of Harry Potter!” or “Is this a hobbit hole?” We greet every reader who wanders in (unless it’s super obvious words would only disrupt the quiet bookish wonderland they’re seeking). 

 

What about your store do you think appeals to your neighborhood?

In a small Southern college town in West Georgia, you may not be surprised too often by what you see around you, but guaranteed, without a doubt, you will be surprised a book on our shelves exists during each visit—we’re often surprised ourselves! We think our community also knows just how sincerely exuberant we are about books and about Carrollton! 

 

Do you have any staff picks or releases we should watch out for?

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You can see all our staff picks at our Bookshop page at www.bookshop.org/shop/undergroundbooks! Josh is raving about the recently released Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller, and Megan is patiently waiting for him to finish so she can start.

 

Do you tailor your inventory according to your community?

Every indie bookstore is picking books with their community on their hearts and minds, and we’re no exception. We think secondhand books reflect their communities in really clear ways, having been sourced from friends’ and neighbors’ bookshelves! We do curate our selection with our local community of scholars and students and alumni in mind, too—lots of secondhand classics full of someone’s smart notes, beautiful rare books from the Victorian era that teach science using fairy tales, award-winning afro-futurist fantasy, and the like! 

 

Is there anything else that you’d like our audience to know?

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We’ve gotten a lot of praise for our social media, particularly our regular #bookfacefriday features, our silly and creative videos, and the gorgeous vintage books on fairy tales, science, and nature we post weekly!

Be sure to catch Underground books on Instagram @underground_bks. Do you know of a book shop worthy of a spotlight on our site? Contact us through any of our socials and you may just find it here next week.

Featured image via underground books