Phoenix & Dragon Still Soaring After 30 Years
Candace Apple, who started the Sandy Springs Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore in 1987, appears happy, established and pleased with the metaphysical retail center she has grown for the past 30 years. But she occasionally misses the old days.
“One of the things, as these beliefs become more mainstream, I sorta miss, is the naughtiness factor,” laughs Apple, sitting in a dim reading room, across a small round table while Smokey, one of the beloved store cats, scratches at the door. “People would sneak in and say, ‘I’m gonna write you a check, but I need to bring you cash on Monday because my husband can’t know I was here.’ Or they’d run into someone they knew and they’d go ‘Oh, you’re here. It’s OK.’ People needed a place to come together and find like-minded people they could talk to and not feel too weird.”
Apple recounts that back when she started her store at its first Sandy Springs location, on Hammond Drive, the attitude was that her store, with “new age” books on various religions and spiritual topics, should be in Little Five points where “all the alternative people are.” But Apple thought her own community needed the store.
“I was more band mom, but I was sort of a soccer mom in East Cobb,” says Apple. “There was a lot of interest up here but everyone was isolated. You were in a community in Little Five Points and you knew you could talk to people. Here, you’d be at soccer practice and ‘Ah! She’s reading Out on a Limb. I can talk to her. She’s got a crystal on!’”
Apple, a member of both Compassionate Atlanta and Compassionate Sandy Springs, said she wanted a place for people to gather. Phoenix & Dragon now hosts between 30 and 60 events a month, from support groups and classes to Tarot readings and full art gallery openings. The online calendar often lists two and three events a day.
“Yes, it is a community center. And she wanted it to be,” says Sandra Niven, longtime friend and former Phoenix & Dragon teacher. “She wanted the store to be welcoming and you bring your grandmother, no matter what your religion was, and be comfortable in that store. She didn’t want it to be weird to anybody.”
Her store, which also features Judeo-Christian literature, has never been picketed, Apple said. But for a while, a never-discovered person would enter the store on Sundays and stuff pamphlets into the store’s books that informed people they were going to Hell. That negativity is an anomaly at a store where acceptance is the rule.
“It’s exciting to see people that are exploring and thinking and learning,” Apple said. “There’s lots of different options but there’s nobody saying this is what you’ve got to believe. We do honor all the traditions around the world. And it does include pagan and wiccan and it does scare some people, but we’re not telling them they have to believe that.”
A quick afternoon phone call on Monday, Sept. 11 found Apple stopping in to feed the store cats and habitually answering the phones as Tropical Storm Irma headed toward Atlanta. Three days later she reports that she hosted some evacuees at her home, and let others who were in the area shop at her store as the wind and rain picked up, even though she was officially closed.
But that’s Apple, and that’s Phoenix & Dragon, says Niven, who claims people from out of state regularly visit what she says is one of largest, most eclectic metaphysical bookstores around.
“She’s never too busy to help a customer in any way she can. Sometimes that place Is just packed, particularly on a Sunday afternoon. People go, they go and they can stay for hours and nobody says anything,” Niven says. “I think she wants people to just enjoy the store.”
Customer, comedian and actress Chesta Drake said the store is an inspiring expression of its owner, who personally believes in the people who gather at Phoenix & Dragon.
“I’d like to be a movie star. I don’t think I’ll be an ingenue kissing on these hunky guys,” says Drake, a retired high school counselor. “But I could be a character actress and she’s like, ‘Absolutely, I’ll go see your movies.’ And I had a bit part in Billy Lynn’s Long Halfime Walk. And sure enough, she came. I thought ‘How supportive.’ That’s what she does, she’s supports other people’s dreams.”
Apple’s own dream hasn’t always been easy. She said that when she started the store she had no business plan or financial reserves for the first tumultuous days of business, and didn’t even know how to run the cash register. She says she opened the store by putting a second mortgage on her home, and started with zero money in her account. Niven called Apple “the little engine that could,” who just keeps going despite business issues, floods and financial recession.
Apple’s success could be measured in the store’s 35,000 newsletter subscribers, or in the third-generation customers and staff who return to visit. She says the successes are the results of stubbornness, flexibility in service and simply realizing there was no going back.
Her dream for her creation, which was originally based on her master’s degree thesis of women’s creativity being fostered in themselves without outside influences, would be that Phoenix and Dragon keep going independent of whenever she personally retires.
“My real goal that I’m working towards is for the store to maintain without me,” says Apple. “I think that to me is an important aspect of it, cause there’s no reason for it to stop if I stop. And I think it could.”
Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, located at 5531 Roswell Road NE, Sandy Springs, will host a day-long 30th anniversary celebration Oct. 14, featuring the store’s Visionaries Imagining Possibilities, from 1987 to 2017, door prizes, refreshments and more. For more information visit PhoenixAndDragon.com.
Contact editor and writer Sarah Buehrle at [email protected].