Scott McElheney did not realize when he took a career leap what a curveball 2020 would try to throw at him.
“We did not intend to open up in the middle of a pandemic, but it just kind of happened that way,” said McElheney.
McElheney is the owner and manager of Walls of Books in Milledgeville. The store opened its doors in July, right in the middle of the pandemic. Despite the challenging circumstances, McElheney said he has had a steady stream of customers who have come to enjoy the new store.
“We wear masks, we have hand sanitizer around, we wipe down the counters, we do whatever we can to keep everybody safe,” said McElheney. “It doesn’t seem to bother them to come in and be in the store.”
For McElheney, owning the store at 1905 N. Columbia St. is both a career renaissance and a way to live out his lifetime love of books. A native of Monticello, McElheney spent a lot of time in his childhood reading.
“I grew up in a house full of books,” said McElheney. “Every house that I’d ever visit with relatives, there were books somewhere, and that’s what I would do was read.”
The love of books runs in the family. McElheney’s aunt was a librarian, and his mother was a school teacher who spent the last 15 years of her career as a school librarian.
McElheney said he spent a lot of time coming to Milledgeville as a child and he eventually enrolled as a student at Georgia College. Back then, there was a dedicated bookstore in the Milledgeville Mall. When that store went out of business, McElheney felt it left a void in the city.
“It seems odd that in a college town that there was no bookstore, used, new or otherwise,” said McElheney.
Some changes took place at McElheney’s previous employment, and when faced with finding a new career path, the idea to bring a bookstore to Milledgeville inspired him.
“I was a longtime customer of Gottwals and thought it was a fantastic concept,” said McElheney. “I talked with Shane Gottwals [owner of the Gottwals Books and Walls of Books chain]. “He was very encouraging because they had been looking at Milledgeville for a long time.”
Walls of Books has locations in eight different states, including several locations throughout Georgia. The store sells both new and used books, with used books making up approximately 75% of the book inventory.
Walls of Books accepts used books in good condition for trade-ins that customers can then apply toward store purchases. The store management evaluates the books and offers a store credit amount on a business-sized card. The customer can use the store credit to apply to purchases of used books at up to 50% off the marked price. Credit does not have to be used at one time, so customers have the option to return and apply their credit to later purchases.
“Any books that we take in, we give store credit,” said McElheney. “I have a couple of folks that have brought in literally tubs of books that have racked up $300 worth of store credit.”
In addition to the large selection of used books, Walls of Books stocks a carefully curated selection of new books.
“There are people that want the latest and the greatest, and they’re willing to pay the premium for a new book and not have to wait for it to be several months old and get a used one,” said McElheney.
Some titles are so popular that they have to be stocked new despite not actually being new releases.
“Harry Potter is one that we keep fully stocked at all times because we never know if we’re going to get them in used,” said McElheney. “If someone’s coming in looking for it, the option is always there to buy a new copy.”
Aside from books, Walls of Books stocks several popular book-related and educational items such as Melissa & Doug toys, Plus-Plus building kits, Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, puzzles, mugs, bookmarks, tote bags and a selection of games that are different from the standard board games one might find at a big box store. Book-themed socks have also proven quite popular with customers.
Walls of Books offers discounts to active and retired military, first responders, educators and college and high school students. The store is also able to work with local school teachers to procure class sets of books as needed.
When asked how he feels about people who try to say that books are becoming obsolete in the digital age, McElheney has a very clear answer.
“I’ve had too many customers that have come in and said, ‘I have tried to read on a Kindle or an iPad or whatever, and I hate it. I can’t do it,’” said McElheney. “People want that tactile feel of the book in their hand. You really can’t curl up with a good iPad. I don’t think books are going anywhere any time soon.”
Walls of Books
1905 N. Columbia St., Milledgeville
Facebook: Walls of Books Milledgeville
Hours: Tuesday, Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.