Reston’s soon-to-be last remaining bookstore celebrated its 35th year Sunday.
The Used Book Shop in Lake Anne Plaza was started in 1978 by longtime friends Sue Schram and Sue Wensell, who had decided it would be a great way to give back to their community.
“I originally moved to Reston in 1967 and met Sue Schram, but then moved to Colorado in 1969,” Wensell said. “Sue stayed here in Reston. Living in Colorado, I saw what was perhaps the first used bookstore I had ever seen, and when I moved back to Reston in 1977, I told her that a used bookstore would be a natural for Lake Anne Plaza.”
The next year, the two took over a former barbershop space and filled it with books they had been buying for months.
“The original barber’s pole is still outside of the shop, now with the name of the bookshop on it,” Wensell said.
After running the store for 21 years, Schram and Wensell decided they had done everything they could for it and wanted to take some time for their families to travel together.
In 1999, they sold the store to Reston resident Bud Burwell and his wife, Susan.
“Bud was a special-education teacher who worked for us part time,” Wensell said. “We actually waited to sell until he retired from Fairfax County public schools so he could take over. We wanted him because he knew the store so well.”
One of the first things the Burwells did was double the size of the store by taking over a space that had been a dry cleaner, creating a living room adorned with antiques from the 19th century, as well as chairs and sofas.
The room, with a view of Lake Anne, is used for activities including reading, writing and visiting with friends. The shop also hosts book clubs, poetry clubs, authors, local bluegrass musicians, birthday parties and the occasional George Mason University class.
“Our personal goal is not to make a lot of money but to support the community, pay our bills and our staff, and have fun,” Susan Burwell said.
Julie Lehman, 39, has worked at the shop since 2005 and credits Lake Anne’s “community feel” for the store’s success.
“There’s a sense of a community in the plaza and in the store,” Lehman said. “This place encourages people to read, especially older books that have more personality and character, which you might not find in large book chains.”
In addition to children’s literature, other popular book topics include cooking, philosophy, religion, nature, reference, foreign language, mystery and even a literature section labeled “good reading.”
People bring in books, and employees rummage through them and cull exactly what they want and know will sell.
“We admit we are quite picky; all books must be in good condition,” Burwell said. “We have a trade policy where three mysteries equals one mystery, and for the rest of the topics, people will receive cash back or store credit.”
Burwell said part of their success comes from having a deep selection of books that people will flock to first before major book retailers. “I believe books are born at Barnes and Noble, and then they come to us,” she said.
The Barnes and Noble in Reston will close next month, making Reston’s Used Book Shop the last bookstore in town, and one of the last few remaining used bookstores in the region.
“We think of ourselves as more than just a bookstore,” Burwell said. “We are a community gathering place and also a place for people who like to read to meet others who like to read. One of the nicest compliments I have ever heard about the shop is that it reminded someone of a comfortable living room.”