By Cliff McCollum
For several months, a treasure trove for fans of the printed word has set up shop in downtown Opelika, but few have been able to find it.
Tina Tatum, owner and operator of the nonprofit Gnu’s Room bookstore, said the popular used bookstore and hangout she built and developed in Auburn has had some difficulties rebuilding clientele since the move to its new 8th Street location, in the rear of Heritage Gift Shop.
“We have people who just think we are closed down completely – they don’t know we are relocated,” Tatum said. “We’ve tried to reach out to people via Facebook and our email list, but that only goes so far.”
A friend of Tatum’s mentioned to Heritage owner Barbara Patton that the Gnu’s Room was looking for a new home, and Patton thought she could help.
“She graciously offered us some free space in order to start the business,” Tatum said, adding that she used the money raised for the Gnu’s Room relocation to put in lighting fixtures to the store’s new space.
The new location offers less space than her former Auburn location, so Tatum had to cull part of her collection in the move to downtown Opelika.
“Essentially, we’ve kept the same genres, but have slightly less inventory,” Tatum said, “and we can still work to find any book any of our customers may want or need.”
The bookstore is just one aspect of the Gnu’s Room’s place in the community, as the nonprofit has ventured into the publishing realm as well.
“The bookstore provides revenue for the press, and the press provides revenue to hopefully publish future books,” Tatum said.
Tatum once worked for a small press in Montgomery and felt a small publishing house focused on local writers was a good fit for the area.
“Our mission is to try to preserve and promote the lifestyle, history and culture of the South,” Tatum said, “so we pick books that we feel do that.”
Tatum said the press plans to publish three books each fall – a fiction piece, a nonfiction piece and a book of poetry. The press has published works by poet Peter Huggins and columnist Mary Adams Belk, as well as a collection of offerings from local writers called “Chinaberries and Crows.”
“I wanted to do an anthology first because I knew without advertising money this would be the best way to get the word out about the press,” Tatum said. “People wanted to read essays and poems written by folks that were their family members, friends and neighbors.”
Tatum said she hopes the press and store will one day generate enough revenue to start a mobile music, arts and literacy education program that will address underserved parts of the area.
She also said she hopes to continue to bring in old and new customers to the store by hosting several special events, including the popular First Friday open mic nights.
“We had a lot of success with our First Friday nights in Auburn with a lot of different people coming and sharing their work, so we hope to build on that and integrate it in with the First Friday things that are already here in downtown Opelika,” Tatum said.
The Gnu’s Room also hosts a classic literature discussion group the second Thursday of each month, where professors from Auburn and readers can engage in spirited discussions and ask questions about a set topic.The next meeting will be held March 6, when Auburn professor and poet Peter Huggins will lead a discussion on T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
Tatum said the Gnu’s Room also has several book signings on the horizon and aims to reach out to more local authors to hold events in the space.
“I understand the convenience of the Amazon order or downloading an e-book,” Tatum said “but you can’t get an e-book signed when you meet the author. You miss the human interaction of talking about the book with someone.”
Tatum said the business hours for the Gnu’s Room are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., but she would be open to extending hours if there was a demand for it.
“At the end of the day, we just want that book to go home with someone, and we’ll do what is needed to make that happen, to keep spreading that love of reading and books.”