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Regular Customers Mourn Closing of Vertigo Books

"As we have said before, your shopping dollars help create the community you want to live in. For every $10 you spend at locally-owned businesses, $4.50 stays in our community," they wrote, using a conservative estimate.

Spend $10 at Vertigo, they explained, and about half stays in the county. Spend the same at Amazon, and the local economy gets zero.

"The money you spend with locally-owned businesses continues to circulate as we pay employees, buy supplies and pay taxes that are used to provide basic services to residents," the couple said.

The gathering that drew patrons to the store April 18 had been announced as a potluck wake and discount shopping opportunity, and the mourners came with their children, credit cards and covered dishes. They gathered armloads of books, waited in long lines and chatted for hours with the like-minded, while the little ones pulled some of their favorites from the shelves and stretched out on the floor.

Prince George's County Council member Eric Olson (D-College Park), with his long, straight hair in its trademark ponytail, was there. "You lose the independent voices," he said, trying to express what the closing of Vertigo means. "You don't find the community on the Internet, not the same kind of community."

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), the graying state lawmaker with a stud in his ear, was present, too.

"I live a few blocks away. They're neighbors and friends," he said of the owners. "They raise political issues by the very stock they carry. They're progressive, and that's important to me."

There were hugs and commentaries: "This is wrong! Just wrong," one woman said to another in a back corner near the children's section.

But Warren, who also has worked for the past several years as director of programming for the Prince George's County library system, kept the atmosphere light with her stories, such as the one about how she offered former employee Joe Razza, 39, of the District, a job at the downtown store in 1992 when he began spending so much time there that she figured he ought to make himself useful.

"When certain authors come to Washington to read, they look for Vertigo," Razza said. "Authors like Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, Ishmael Reed. This is the one place that Darius James knows in Washington. . . . Right now, I'm just sad. I wish I were here for a different reason."

Sophie Stewart, a freshman at Barnard College in New York, came home for the potluck at her parents' store, which was particularly poignant for the longtimers who had watched her grow up there.

"I always thought I was very lucky to grow up here and go to off-site events with my parents. Even though we're losing it, I'm really happy my parents didn't decide to become lawyers or something like that," she said. "I'm really proud of them, even though it's not been the easiest job."


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