Iconic bookstore owner closing downtown Newnan shop after 36 years
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Earlene Scott has always loved books.
She is such a voracious reader that by the mid 1970s, she had already read all the books that interested her at Newnan’s Carnegie Library and had to start purchasing new reading material.
At the time, bookstores were few and far between. In fact, the closest one wasn’t really a bookstore at all — it was the book section at Rich’s in downtown Atlanta.
“I would go up to Rich’s maybe every two weeks to buy some books,” Scott said.
One day, her husband Dick brought up the subject of a Perry Street building owned by Scott’s father.
“My husband said, ‘Why don’t you see if he is interested in selling the building and maybe try a small bookstore?’” Scott recalled. “So that’s what we did.”
Scott’s Bookstore has been a Newnan institution for more than 36 years, but its shelves are mostly empty now. The beloved store will close its doors for good March 29, when Scott retires.
Scott’s Book Store was a tiny thing at first — a mere 600 square feet at 27 Perry Street. The first book signing it hosted was for newspaper columnist Lewis Grizzard – a Moreland native – in 1977. Grizzard returned on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving nearly every year after that.
“I never planned anything else for that day,” said Scott, who was the store’s sole employee – with plenty of time to read between customers – in those early years.
Scott’s relocated to South Court Square in the late ‘90s, when – despite several expansions – the store outgrew its location.
“We’d knock out a wall every time we needed to enlarge” the Perry Street building, said Scott. Besides, “I had always wanted to be right across from the courthouse.”
So she and her husband bought the former Western Auto building, complete with a second floor full of odds and ends.
Dick wanted to keep it all.
“My husband loved junk,” Scott said, but Dick passed away before he was able to do much with his new treasures.
At the time, the 1904 Courthouse was still functional, and jurors and local judges often came in to browse the 2,400 square-foot building. Despite the extra room, Scott said she soon broke her own rule.
“I said no books will ever be put on the floor. They’ll be off the floor!” Scott said. “A month later, there were books on the floor.”
Scott, 76, said “it’s just time” to close her store. Earlier this year, she said, she was thinking about turning 76 and remembering that she opened in 1976.
“It just sort of clicked,” she said. “I just made up my mind that, after 36 years, it was time. I love to garden. There are things I need to do at home. I’d like to do some traveling, and the only way I’m going to be able to do it is to close the bookstore.
Still, “I’m going to miss my customers and I’m going to miss my books,” she said. “Because I don’t know where I’m going to buy my books now.”
Scott said she wants to put to rest rumors that she was driven out of business.
“No, no. I haven’t had any trouble with any of that,” she said, especially not since Hastings – one of three book stores in town – closed. “Most of my customers prefer shopping downtown, which is good for me.”
In fact, while a lot of readers “do Amazon, and a lot of them have the Kindle now,” Scott said, but “I’d rather have the real book in my hand.”
But the rise of Amazon and e-books “was not a factor. It was just age and time,” she said of her decision.
If e-books and big box book stores were going to put Scott’s out of business, “it would have already happened,” she said.
“I have been very lucky, that everybody has supported my downtown business,” she said. Customers have driven from LaGrange, Carrollton, Peachtree City, and even Alabama.
“They know what we carry and, for autographings, they’ll come over,” she said.
Book signings, by authors both world-famous and barely known, have been a big part of Scott’s Book Store.
“We had Herman Talmage and Zell Miller. Of course David Boyd and Ludlow Porch. Ann Rivers Siddons, Stuart Woods, Nora Roberts,” Scott said.
There were opportunities for lots of local writers, as well.
Scott’s last book signing was for Jeff Bishop and his book, “A Cold Coming.” It was rather fitting to end with Bishop, as both he and Grizzard were former writers for The Newnan Times-Herald.
Another distinctive draw at Scott’s has always been the stickers. Scott saw some Mrs. Grossman’s stickers at a book show once and thought it would be something neat to have. The store stocked a wide variety of stickers on rolls, and you could buy just one or as many as you wanted.
“They were just fun for the kids to collect,” Scott said. “Then the craze started with scrapbooking and we sold just as many to people doing their own books.”
Teachers would buy stickers for their students, and parents would even by them for rewards to their children who were potty training.
“It just became very, very popular with the kids in town,” Scott said of the stickers. “When I announced I was going to out of business, everybody was asking what I would do with the stickers. They went fast.”
She had young mothers — who had bought stickers when they themselves were children, bringing in their children.
“They said they’ve just got to have some stickers from Scott’s,” she said. “One of the girls said my mother always brought me in here and I want some for my babies.”
Scott had breast cancer about 20 years ago, and some of those who have visited her since the closing was announced were worried that it was her health that made her decide to close the store. She reassured them she’s just fine.
“I’m retiring because I want to,” she said. But “you know Newnan. You’ve got to have some reasons you’re doing this, not that you are just tired and want to retire.”
Scott has always loved to garden, and looks forward to having more time for it.
She also loves the beach. The next time she goes, she won’t have to keep her cell phone handy to make sure things are all right at the store.
“I’ve always gone on vacation with a phone in my hand, so they could call me or I could call them,” she said. “I’m getting away from that.”
Scott was asked if she’d thought of hiring a manager to keep the store going, instead of closing it all together. But that wouldn’t stop the phone calls or the stress of running a business.
She is hoping to rent out the building to a tenant. But one condition will be that the tenant won’t be allowed to paint over the murals all around the ceiling, which were painted by Scott’s former employee Michal Fetner Taylor-Phillips.
One of those murals is of Scott herself, surrounded by pages of books that include pictures of things that are special to her — her cat, the old Perry Street location, a beach chair and umbrella.
“I have really had some sweet girls work for me over the years,” she said. “Everybody comments – where do you find all these nice high school girls?”
In recent days, many people have dropped in just to say goodbye. Even though she’ll be busy gardening and traveling, she’ll still be around.
“People will probably be seeing me around downtown,” she said. “They call me the bag lady. I’ve got friends downtown and all these great restaurants downtown. I’ll have to come for lunch time.”