Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., has been showcasing author events and culinary tastings ever since Janet Geddis opened the store in 2011. Cookbooks are clearly a hit in Athens: the bestselling book at Avid – period – is Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson's James Beard Award–winning cookbook, A New Turn in the South (Clarkson Potter, 2011).
"We have many customers who will buy Hugh's book and send it to their friends," said Geddis, whose store holds impromptu meet-and-greets for the chef and his readers, as well as selling books for his events at the local farmer's market. "We also have people who call from California who want their books inscribed, and Hugh drops by when he can to personalize them." (Acheson has three restaurants in Georgia.)
A New Turn in the South isn't the only cookbook doing well at Avid. "We have some perennial bestsellers," said Geddis. "We do sell a lot of Southern-themed cookbooks, and at first some of my book reps were surprised by that." Cookbooks with a local connection are in demand year-round, according to Geddis; more general cookbooks don't do quite as well. "I don't know how many of our customers cook out of the books they buy, but we get a lot of them buying beautiful books – ones with striking covers."
Customers also come out to support their favorite chefs and authors at both formal tastings and casual meet-and-greets. "Last November we hosted vegan rock star chef Isa Moskowitz for a laid-back event," Geddis said. "We had 90 people, sold a ton of books, and everyone was thrilled to meet her. She was really great at connecting with her fans." In December 2012, the store partnered with one of Acheson's local restaurants, Five & Ten, for an event with French Laundry chef/owner Thomas Keller ("Arguably one of the best chefs in the world," said Geddis). "It was a more formal tasting, and a big success. We've done different types of events depending on the chef's preference. We can do it all, across the board."
Readers interested in changing their diet, expanding their culinary craft, or attempting a new fad aren't shy about asking Geddis and her staff for recommendations. For beginners, they are quick to recommend Mark Bittman's books, including How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). "He does a really great job of saying he is not a chef by trade," Geddis said. "He fell into this role, and everything in his books is explained step-by-step. He simplifies the science of cooking." Another accessible title that has done well for Avid is Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes (Hyperion, 2011): "We have customers who work through the book and watch his YouTube videos for the recipes."
For bakers, Geddis refers customers to The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook (Artisan, 2012) by Griffith and Cheryl Day, who have a bakery of the same name in Savannah. "The cookbook is really great. My events coordinator Rachel's twelve-year-old daughter, Anna Francis, bought the book two years ago, and she will bake and deliver her goods to us," said Geddis. "The recipes are simple and easy to understand, and Rachel feels comfortable letting her daughter bake them."
While cookbooks move well throughout the year, they are hard to keep on the shelf during the holidays. "We definitely sell the most before Christmas," Geddis said. "We noticed this past Christmas our cookbook section was thinned by half. We will increase it again in November and see how it goes. As a relatively new store, we're still learning."