Shuttered Children's Bookstore Given New Life

Monday, June 23, 2008

A New Yorker cover this month depicts a delivery man handing an Amazon.com package to a young woman standing at her apartment doorway. She looks sheepishly at her next-door neighbor, who is unlocking the door to his small bookstore and witnessing the transaction.

This illustration captures the story of what's happened to many independent bookstores in the past few years as they've struggled against a wave of customer defections to Amazon.com, other e-commerce sites, mega-bookstores and Wal-Mart. In the face of all that, a new children's bookstore opened in Alexandria last weekend.

Two former staffers of A Likely Story, which abruptly closed its doors in November, have taken over the store's old space near the King Street Metro and opened Hooray for Books, an independent children's bookstore.

A Likely Story was in business for more than 20 years, but its last owners closed it after three years of ownership. The co-owners of Hooray for Books, Trish Brown and Ellen Klein, have hired three part-timers, also veterans of the old store.

In 1984, Klein interviewed the original owner of A Likely Story, Marilyn Dugan, for a local newspaper article. She fell in love with the bookstore and was interested in buying it, but when Dugan retired and put it up for sale a few years ago, Klein wasn't in a position to snatch it up. Instead, she began working there.

Brown said she was always interested in owning a bookstore and began working at A Likely Story when her daughter was 5 years old, eventually accruing 16 years of experience at the store.

The co-owners acknowledge that running a small bricks-and-mortar shop is challenging these days, but Brown said, "I like to hold a book in my hands and see it, feel the heft of it and see the pictures."

Klein said customers find it helpful to flip through a book. "If you go to Amazon.com, if you know exactly what you want, it might work," she said. "But if you're trying to buy something for your granddaughter who is 8 and likes horses but don't know what to get, we can suggest a dozen books that fit that criteria."

The company plans Friday and Saturday morning story hours; child safety-seat inspections from a licensed inspector; a summer camp; and a career camp showcasing people with different professions, such as a canine police officer, firefighter, photographer and restaurateur.

-- Sharon McLoone, who reports on small business at washingtonpost.com/smallbusiness.


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