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Bibliophile brings passion to new Arcade Mall store

Melinda Waldrop //February 4, 2020//

Bibliophile brings passion to new Arcade Mall store

Melinda Waldrop //February 4, 2020//

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Ben Adams’ life revolves around books, just like he always imagined. But the details have changed a bit.

Adams, 35, opened Odd Bird Books in the downtown Arcade Mall building at Main and Washington streets this week. The Columbia native had figured to put his master’s degree in English to use as a writer, but that road diverged post-graduate school.

“A lot of writers end up owning bookstores,” Adams said. “It isn’t discouraged writers are becoming bookstore owners because they give up or something. It’s just that you can channel that same kind of impulse into other projects. Literary culture, I think, is what my life’s work is going to be — not necessarily writing books but kind of promoting and advancing literacy.

“I realized that I don’t necessarily need to create books, but I like them and I like advocating. I like to talk about them.”

Ben Adams works to get Odd Bird Books ready to open in the Arcade Mall. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)After getting his undergraduate degree from American University in Washington, D.C., and stints as a copy aide at the Washington Post and in publishing in New York, Adams settled into running a bookstore in Charleston. In the back of his mind, he figured he’d come home to Columbia one day, but that plan picked up speed late last year.

Adams had decided to leave Charleston and was manning a pop-up book booth at Soda City Market in November. Casting about for a bookstore base, Adams said he sent a “shot in the dark” email to Jenna Bridgers, vice president of recruitment at downtown development arm City Center Partnership.

Bridgers, who first met Adams during a visit to Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, knew about a soon-to-be-available opportunity in the Arcade Mall.

“The owner (of Blue Bicycle) did not have interest in expanding, but Ben let me know he was interested in branching out and doing his own thing,” Bridgers said. “ …. He wanted something small and accessible and in the heart of good foot traffic.”

Bridgers said an independent bookstore fills a downtown need, and it seemed like a good fit for the surrounding business environment, which includes the Main Street location of Indah Coffee and Swanson’s Deli.

“I wouldn’t go recruit another taco place and put it within a couple blocks of Cantina,” she said. “It’s a delicate little ecosystem down here.”

Once Adams signed a lease, his plans shifted into high gear.

“I did not think it was going to move this quickly at all, so I had to kind of get busy on my end,” said Adams, who packed up his things in Charleston and moved back to Columbia, settling in for the moment with his parents, who “cut me a little slack,” he said. “I wasn’t just hanging out on the couch when I got back. I was already doing a lot.

“It’s been a whirlwind couple of months. As soon as I loaded up the truck in Charleston and got here, I’ve just been going nonstop.”

Adams spent January procuring books from a distributor and designing Odd Bird Books’ website. His cozy shop features fiction, children’s books and nonfiction genres including history, science and philosophy, along with a sprinkling of cookbooks.

Odd Bird Books’ name has no particular meaning, other than Adams wanted something easy to remember and not a “really on-the-nose literary thing,” he said. “A lot of bookstores have names like Stories and Chapters and Pages, or Books on Main Street.”

Adams hopes to eventually host authors, book clubs and writing workshops. He’s also fairly confident that there is a market niche for independent bookstores as people turn to them for amenities unavailable at big-box chains.

“I’d say independent bookstores are in a good position now. I’m bullish-ish,” Adams said. “They’re never going to make a ton of money, but independent bookstores have figured out a way to survive or coexist.

“Amazon wins for price point and getting it tomorrow. (Small) bookstores win for everything else, which is like the events, the physical space, doing fun stuff like a Book of the Month club. … I’m going to do new book orders a couple of times a week. If Amazon Prime gets you the book tomorrow, I still would get you the book the second or third day, and I’m right here, and you can talk to me, and you get to come in the Arcade Mall.”

Adams also plans to partner with Indie Grits for a Zine Fest this spring.

“We’re not just selling books. I’m also selling book culture and social events related to books,” he said.

And just maybe, there may be a moment here and there for Adams to slip out to a table in the Arcade Mall’s ornate lobby and find some inspiration for the short fiction he hasn’t touched in a while.

“That’s something else I’m hoping, too,” Adams said. “It gets a little sleepy here in the morning and evenings sometimes. If I get the books on the shelf situated and I get a free minute … that’s another romantic idea I have of it, that I’ll actually have some time to sit here and listen to some smooth jazz and maybe dust off some of my old stories.”