For two of the five years that Maomi Bookstore in Chamblee has been open, there's been a pandemic. It's been hard and yet, the book store has a unique selling point that has no doubt played a part in keeping it going- it's the only Chinese bookstore in the entire Southeast.
This is surprising. Over 60,000 people living in Georgia alone identify as Chinese, and both Texas and Virginia have significant Chinese populations. The Chinatown Mall, where the bookstore is located, is the "oldest Asian shopping center in the southeast," according to its Instagram page. It was established in 1988 and for almost 40 years, the small strip mall on New Peachtree Road has been an anchor for the Chinese community in metro Atlanta. It's famous for hosting the Atlanta Chinese Lunar New Year Festival, which, in a non pandemic year attracts thousands of people from throughout the Southeast.
There was no festival last year and there are no plans for one this year. Like so many small businesses, including Maomi Bookstore, the shops in the mall have been impacted by two tough years.
The Chinatown Mall pivoted quickly at the start of the pandemic - closing dine in services and offering takeout and curbside pick up. Even today, though customers can dine indoors, everyone is donning a mask and plastic dividers in many of the shops separate the cashier from the customer.
But on a weekday afternoon inside the bookshop, run by Yvonne Hou, there is no darkness in sight. Hou's bright, thoughtful and warm energy radiates through the store. There are tables filled with calligraphy brushes, oatmeal colored stationary, and a wide array of books and magazines with Chinese characters. She offers me tea served in a glass kettle and coffee flavored biscuits.
For those who don't speak Mandarin (me), there are bilingual cookbooks, learn to speak Chinese language workbooks, herbal teas sourced from Taiwan, and more. Hou hopes to offer free calligraphy and origami workshops this spring. And if all goes well, tea ceremony workshops next fall.
In the meantime, she's preparing a display of 2022 calendars.
If Omicron passes without too much fanfare (who knows...), I'll plan to be there. You can stay updated on workshop dates and times by following Maomi Bookstore's Instagram page here.
Here are just a few of the items that caught my eye at the shop.