A love for literature, an unexpected career

Sophie Peel
Shane and Abbey Gottwals stand with their children Jack, Silas and Millie.

Submitted photo

Sophie Peel Shane and Abbey Gottwals stand with their children Jack, Silas and Millie.

Sophie Peel, Staff Writer

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Shane Gottwals entered Mercer University in 2002 with the intention of earning an English degree, studying at Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law and opening up a practice in Middle Georgia.

Nearly 15 years later, Gottwals owns twelve used bookstores nationwide, helps entrepreneurs open thriving bookstores through his franchising company and has locked down the opening of ten more Gottwals’ bookstores in 2016.

In a series of emails, Gottwals described how his original plan of becoming a lawyer was derailed by the unexpected formation of of a family-owned used bookstore business that has spread over the United States — as far reaching as Ohio and Washington, D.C.

Gottwals always knew he had a passion for literature, but he said he never quite thought it would manifest into a bookstore.

“I never really considered opening a used bookstore,” Gottwals said. “But I always had a desire to own a company.”

Gottwals credited his professors at Mercer as being some of the biggest influences in both his academic career and love of books, some of whom he has maintained relationships with well into adulthood.

“My fondest memories are those times spent with some of my great professors. Dr. John Stege, in particular, started my passion for literature,” he said.

Gottwals met his eventual wife, Abbey Gottwals, at Mercer. She was studying business, and they just “combined those two skill sets . . . English and business . . . and came up with ‘used bookstore!” Gottwals said.

The idea of a bookstore was always a faint dream that the Gottwals had pestered and prodded at. When it finally manifested in 2007 with a small storefront in Warner Robins, Shane Gottwals said it was not always easy, and the manner in which they obtained books was underdeveloped.

“In the early days, we slugged and sweated through so many store openings. But, my wife and I had a great time,” Gottwals said.

Over the course of eight years, the Gottwals have expanded their variety of books, storefronts and audience.

Gottwals has made a splash on the national stage. In December of 2015, the Washington Post published an article about the resurgence of used bookstores and their surprising success despite having to combat the digital age. Shane Gottwals was cited as a pioneer of the effort to revive the nostalgia of the musty page, assisting other business owners in creating thriving bookstores across the country.

Unlike the musty and worn feeling many used bookstores tend to have lingering on their torn pages, the Gottwals intentionally created a crisp environment.

“We try to look high-class but keep low prices,” Gottwals said.

According to the Gottwals Books website, Gottwals was born and raised in Macon. He went to Central Fellowship Christian Academy for school and said that coming to Mercer forced him to re-evaluate his beliefs. The diversity of opinions challenged him, as college often does to people, but he said that the competing worldviews only “made me a stronger Christian.”

Gottwals also spent some of his time in college expanding his own worldview as a study abroad student at Oxford University.

While in England, Gottwals received news that his father had died. He flew home for the funeral but returned to finish his classes — among them a course on C.S Lewis.

“C.S Lewis was there to help comfort me during my grief,” Gottwals said.

The book that fueled his healing, Gottwals noted, was “Mere Christianity” by C.S Lewis. Gottwals said that its message of the “simplicity of the Gospel” allowed him to find hope and inspiration in Jesus Christ.

Gottwals always hoped for the bookstore to stay as a family business, and he truly felt the strength of this when his wife and he decided to have children. He never had to worry that his wife’s absence from the business would hamper its success.

“We’ve created something that gives us that flexibility . . . it’s truly our family business. It serves our family while we serve thousands of families around this country,” Gottwals said.

Though the Gottwals are business-minded, their passion for literature and family permeates the bookstore. Gottwals hopes to rehabilitate the lack of bookstores and claims that his intention is to revive communities that read.

“Too many communities have a gaping hole where bookstores have come and gone,” Gottwals said.  “We intend to meet the demand head-on.”

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