For Children's Bookstore, an Unhappy End

Many families attended the shop's story time. Few bought books afterward, Paul says.
Many families attended the shop's story time. Few bought books afterward, Paul says. (By J Carrier For The Washington Post)

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By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 6, 2007

In 2006, A Likely Story, the beloved Old Town children's bookstore, won the industry's prestigious Pannell Award and was voted the most outstanding children's bookstore in the nation. For two decades, the bookstore, and especially its children's story time, were fixtures in the lives of many families.

The shop hosted midnight Harry Potter parties, which thousands attended. Its owners were prime forces behind such community events as this year's Tricks and Treats on Halloween. They donated to school fundraisers, hosted birthday parties, organized writers' workshops for children and held summer camps.

On Nov. 21, A Likely Story hosted a deeply discounted "thank you" sale and closed its doors forever.

The news took many by surprise. On Nov. 26, parent Sarah Clements stood in front of the darkened store, with 8-month-old Sean bundled into a stroller and 2-year-old Andrew looking forlornly through the glass front doors. On each side of the teal blue doors was the familiar stencil of a child and teddy bear sitting beside a dollhouse, engrossed in books. Inside, a single light shone on the bright yellow, polka-dotted walls. Bookshelves that had once been filled with every kind of story and picture book imaginable were empty; some bookshelves had been dismantled. The three had come for the shop's 11 a.m. story time, as they had regularly for much of the year.

"That's sad, Mommy," Andrew said, his face pressed to the glass. "That's sad."

"Story time here was great," Clements said. "It was really fast paced and high energy. They'd read a story, then stop and sing a song. It was very easy to hold [the children's] attention, which is not usually an easy thing to do. I think a lot of people will miss this place."

A few minutes later, three nannies strolled up with their charges. "This is such a shock," Ilia Asto said.

Penny Andrews came by with 10-month-old Charlotte. "This is the first time I've ever made it, and now it's closed," she said. She read the sign posted on the front door: "Like any great story, ours has come to an end. After 23 years in business, we have closed our doors for the final time. We greatly thank you for your patronage and the wonderful memories that we will have to carry with us into our futures. You have made our two decades plus in business as magical as any story that we have ever had on our shelves."

The owners had decided that the numbers just didn't add up.

For days, other independent business owners along King Street buzzed with the news. No one could believe it. "They had a sign up that they were remodeling just one month ago, and now they're closed?" said Lynn Mills of Tisara Photography.

The owners of A Likely Story had been instrumental in revitalizing upper King Street, she said, encouraging specialty retail stores and entrepreneurs to locate in the area that had traditionally been known for residential and office space. "It's possible that the revitalization had an adverse effect on this small business, because rents keep going up."

News of the store's closing first came in an e-mail to customers, sent at 3:22 on the morning it was to close. No explanation was given. "Oh no! It can't be true!" read one post on a neighborhood blog. Many wrote how they loved the store's story time but admitted that they rarely bought books afterward. Maybe that's why it was closing, wrote another.


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