Books - Meet the woman behind Cover Books

Westside shop offers avant-garde alternative to chains and online stores

There's a View-Master located inside Cover Books. A peek inside the device tells the story of the business's name. Taken seven years ago, the image shows owner Katie Barringer lying atop a stack of books. The airy, subtle visual was a moment captured in the early days of Barringer's relationship with her husband, artist Peter Bahouth. Bahouth, Barringer says, titled the photograph "Cover."

Sometime in August 2014, Barringer, an Atlanta native, went up to New York City during what she calls a career crossroads in life. After working as the circulation manager for Art Papers, Barringer spent the past five years working with boutique wine wholesaler Hemispheres. She went up north to "hit refresh button," and again found herself surrounded by stacks of books. "What I realized is that any moment I had I was spending in bookstores," Barringer says. "It was a very clear moment and then I had to write a business plan and figure out how to do it."

Taking a visual cue from Bahouth's original still and the inspiration found spending months in New York's myriad book shops and museums, Barringer's mission was simple: Bring a new bookstore to her hometown. The bookstore would fuse all of her interests — art, design, food, wine, photography — and give light to texts that may be more difficult to come across in big chains. Visitors are slowly catching on to what the exposed-brick space in Westside has to offer. "In terms of getting more avant-garde or edgy art books in particular, people have been very excited about it," Barringer says.

The way Barringer describes her products is exactly how one might describe the aesthetic and vibe of Cover Books. Selections range from retrospectives on the works of Damien Hirst and Matisse on down to The Stanley Kubrick Archives. An entire text chronicles various paper plane models over the course of history. There's a section for zines, including local zine publisher Still Life Press, and an entire shelf dedicated to obscure magazines such as the gentlewoman, Artforum, and the Escapist.

The space itself it an architectural wonder, a mix of industrial grit and art-house sleekness, with a 20-foot-long table for featured titles. "Featured," however, is a relative term when you're starting a business centered around hard-to-find book titles in the world of Amazon and Kindle, Barringer says. Though Bahouth, along with Luca Barolli and Jacob Anderson from the Goat Farm's Special Projects team, got the interior to match the vision in Barringer's head, she says the space lent itself to her concept. "I wanted the books to speak for themselves," she says.

Though Cover Books has only been up and running for all of two months, Barringer says the response from the arts, food, and literature communities has been positive and promising. Some, she says, are still just trying to wrap their heads around the presentation. "I had two people ask me if the books were for sale or just on display," she says. "I thought, 'Oh no, the word's out — I'm a book gallery laughs.'"

One thing Barringer hopes will separate Cover from other bookstores around town is the kind of programming she has on tap. She's curating talks featuring local influencers and creatives discussing the literature that inspires them. Though the official slate of events won't kick off till 2016, Barringer's already got New York-based chef Mina Stone coming down for a dinner. She's also been in talks with a few local photographers.

Whether it's researching titles or trying to book interesting programming, Barringer says the current offerings are more a way for her to gauge interests than a set-in-stone inventory. And though she's noticed patrons tend to stray toward "liking the weirder stuff," it's the overall experience of having a new addition to the city's dearth of local book shops that seems to stick.

"You may initially come into the store not knowing what you want but after spending some time looking through the shelves, you see what speaks to you and that's what you end up taking home," Barringer says. "It's a more spontaneous and sometimes slower approach to buying books, but one that I think is much more meaningful."

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