“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers,” so said Charles William Eliot – President of Harvard for the longest time in history, 1869–1909. An April 2020 GJ Ford Bookshop customer had this to say on her way out the door with arms full of books, “I LOVE books! I LOVE this place! I LOVE you for being open!”
That combination, heartfelt personal service and the magic of real books, has led to GJ Ford Bookshop’s success over the last 25 years. Our motto continues to draw returning customers back again and again and excites those discovering the magic of our store for the first time: “Nothing Reads Like a Real Book!”
The visceral tactile olfactory thrill of cracking open a brand new book to travel into worlds and times far removed from the present current dangers of our day, are sensations well-known to readers of those “antiquated” paper and ink contrivances known as books. As you consume the contents of the chronicle, your imagination nudges and prods your senses, filling them with sights, sounds, smells, touch and taste that swiftly fill your mind and heart with wonder. Books are powerful instruments that stimulate you, motivate you, educate you, tickle you, comfort and console you. Part of the magic of a great book is that you can come back to it anytime and relive those wondrous fun moments.
In the mid-1990s, the management of the soon-to-be open Shops at Sea Island sent out a survey to area residents asking what types of retailers they wanted in the new shopping center. “A bookstore” was the overwhelming response. Joe Ford opened the bookshop in 1995, and Mary Jane Reed purchased it in 1998. “From the beginning we have had the most current books available that we feel our customers will like,” said Reed who handpicks every book in the store. “I spend a lot of time curating these books.”
The bookshop has always been in the Shops at Sea Island. Many authors have visited for author events, including Steve Berry, Taylor Brown, Mary Kay Andrews, Carl Hiassen and Bob Schieffer. Along with the usual book clubs, several cookbook book clubs once met at the store. In these clubs, members read a chosen cookbook, then cooked a dish from the book and brought it to the store to share a scrumptious meal.
The store has even been the site for a memorial service. When longtime former employee, and Connecticut transplant Betty Anne Whitney died, her children, who lived in New England, chose the shop for her celebration of life. Whitney famously began her career with Reed after paying a visit to the store and proclaiming, “You need me to work for you.” An avid reader, Whitney literally sold a ton of books while employed at GJ Food Bookshop for 14 years.
“In fact, we have had MANY wonderful staff we have loved over the years and we certainly couldn’t have made it without them in the shop every day,” Reed said.
With a little remodeling and some Christmas snow, GJ Ford Bookshop became the opening scene in the movie, “Christmas on the Coast” made on St. Simons Island. During a break in the filming the director, actors and set people couldn’t resist purchasing books to take home!
“The Harry Potter years were some of the most memorable,” Reed said. “The dressing up, and making book-related refreshments, including butter beer, were fun. In all my years selling books I have never seen old and young so anxious to purchase the latest book.” Midnight openings to sell the latest in the J.K. Rowling series brought out large crowds of witches and goblins, wizards with wands, and wee little Potters.
Another exciting event for the bookshop was when a young buck came through one of the main front windows and then tried to leave through the back. The deer did not even knock the books off the shelves in the front window but sailed right over the top. Fortunately the UPS man was in the store delivering boxes of books and manhandled the deer out the back door.
Many large chain bookstores have closed in recent years as have many independent book sellers. Amazon and electronic books killed many of those stores. “We have survived because of the great support of this island and our customers,” Reed said. According to industry publications, the Wall Street Journal and other national periodicals, independent bookstores are making a comeback. New younger owners are finding the book business appealing and want to be involved keeping bookstores alive.
Locals support us and the visitors from out of town love the bookshop. For many visitors to the area GJ Ford is their favorite bookshop anywhere, and as a result books are sent from St Simons Island all over the USA. Recent shipments went to North Carolina, Tennessee, New York, Washington, D.C., Utah, and all over Georgia. Reed says she’s shipping more books to her out-of-town customers than she traditionally does at Christmas! If you want a book and we don’t have it in stock, we can have it in the shop in three to five days.
GJ Ford Bookshop is a fun inviting place to visit. Comfortable chairs are available for you to sit and take a break while looking for your next adventure, or to catch up on the latest New York Times bestsellers. Puzzles, games, beautiful boxed cards, Lamy fountain pens and other gifts are available as well as books for all ages, from toddlers to spry old seniors. Many customers come to GJ Ford looking for those hard to find out-of-print books. “Sherlock” and “Watson” will assist you in your search.
Reed is offering all customers a chance to celebrate 25 years together by offering refreshments and 25 percent off all purchases on GJ Ford Bookshop’s 25th Anniversary on May 23. Leading up to the store’s 25th anniversary, customers will receive 25 percent off any purchase of the “genre of the day.” Please join us, so that together we can continue to share the joy books and reading bring. Reading a Real book has even been scientifically proven to have huge health benefits. See you in the Bookshop!