By Brian Panowich
The independent bookstore. It evokes a certain kind of warm and comfortable feeling, does it not? Like a sunny day on Main Street, or in our case, on Broad Street. Or a hot cup of locally sourced coffee in an old school brown paper cup … maybe even with a hometown newspaper folded under your arm. You don’t need to be an avid reader to appreciate the aesthetic or the charm associated with a good bookstore. Say what you want about restaurants, or museums, or parks, or statues, or even the Chamber of Commerce, but the independent bookstore is the true beating heart of any downtown community.
So let’s talk for a minute about ours: The Book Tavern, owed and operated by David Hutchison and his lovely wife, Gabi. And when I say it’s ours, I mean it is the only one in town. Sure we have a couple of big box stores that carry the latest trends and best sellers or a few that dabble in used books and novelty socks, but there is only one independently run bookstore in the city of Augusta — the third largest city in the state of Georgia — and it is a great respite from the craziness of the world outside. There is one store that focuses directly on your individual needs and knows exactly how to help, and that is the magic of The Book Tavern.
David and Gabi originally opened the first incantation of their vision in downtown Augusta during the summer 2004. While attending one of the community events organized by The Book Tavern, I flat out asked David, “Why a bookstore?” His answer was both practical and whimsical dating back to his childhood. He told me that he couldn’t remember exactly when he learned to read, just that he always had — and the books mattered. He told me that books are akin to these kinds of amazing creatures. He said that through their stories and information, they don’t just add to people’s lives, but become things of beauty that we trace back as important landmarks in our lives. What else does that? Jobs? People? Money? I mean, sure, all those things matter to a certain degree, but books help define and continue to inform who we become throughout our entire lives. He also went on to say — somewhat bittersweetly — that being the proprietor of a bookstore gives him less time to read. So, if you think about it, the owners of these wonderful little shops, like David and Gobi, who serve to inspire us are born from the sacrifice they make in order to bring that magical world to us. Pretty cool, right?
Before long The Book Tavern cemented itself into the culture of downtown Augusta through a well-versed staff offering recommendations and by an extreme amount of devotion to the community it serves. And by community, I mean ALL the community, considering that The Book Tavern offers one of the broadest sections of culturally diverse books in the country. Trust me, I’d know. I’ve been to hundreds of independent bookstores all over the U.S. (and beyond) and I’d hold up David and Gabi’s shop to any of them.
Then, of course, came the pandemic. The Book Tavern, like many other small independently-owned stores, faced having to close their doors. For some that meant temporarily, but most of them closed permanently. That’s where the sacrifices of David and Gabi became very apparent. The community came together to show the couple, and the store, the love they deserve in the form of cash donations and loyal support by staying off Amazon and keeping their purchases local. David and Gabi’s brilliant idea of the “Surprise Care Package” that can still be found on the The Book Tavern’s website today helped a lot as well.
They stayed positive, worked day and night and made it through. That brings us to 2022 and the Grand Opening of The Book Tavern’s new location at 978 Broad Street. The new location is beautiful and inviting. I took my kids there opening day. We had a blast. Then we went next door to Nacho Mama’s and ate lunch and read all the manga we just scored from David.
The truth is, I really don’t need to sell the place. The Book Tavern sells itself. It has been a staple in Augusta for more than two decades — and there’s a good reason for that. Because good people own it. And they’ve made sure that it is for all of us. And now it’s even bigger and better. Go check it out. Go buy some books. Attend one of the great up-and-coming events. And tell David and Gabi that Brian sent you.
(Photo by Hailea Boykin)
Appears in the June/July 2022 issue of Augusta Magazine.