In August 2014 , D.C. businessman Paul Ruppert launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund his latest project: an independent bookstore.
He already had two businesses right across the street from each other on Upshur Street NW: a bar, Petworth Citizen, and a restaurant, Crane & Turtle.
By September, with help from 369 Kickstarter backers, the bookstore got the remaining $20,000 it needed to move forward. (In total, it cost about $200,000 to get the store going. In addition to Kickstarter, Ruppert used his own funds and a grant from the Great Streets program, the District’s commercial revitalization effort.)
When Upshur Street Books (827 Upshur St. NW) opened on Nov. 1, 2014, a line of customers was waiting outside. Since then the one-room store has been working to establish itself among Washington’s independent bookstores.
“A bookstore, for me, is a place where there can be a cultural conversation,” says Ruppert, who saw a need for “a neighborhood-focused bookstore that would attract people from beyond the neighborhood.”
Upshur prides itself on trying to offer the unexpected. And if you’re looking for book readings with a twist, this store is worth checking out.
It has held cupcake tastings; yoga classes with studios Sadie Leigh Dance and Yoga, Yoga Heights and Lighthouse Yoga; a mixology lesson from Jacob Grier, author of “Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer”; and a 33-hour marathon reading of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”
The “Ulysses” reading was held at Petworth Citizen, which has more space, including its own 3,000-book reading room. Upshur Street Books has also held documentary screenings and readings with the poetry organization Split This Rock.
General manager Anna Thorn, who once worked at the well-known Politics and Prose bookstore, says Upshur’s programming is “not just someone talking at you from behind the podium, and we want to expand on that.”
For example, this fall (Oct. 19) the store is set to host cartooning classes for adults with area artist Adam Dwight.
It also offers children’s programming, including singalongs and Spanish-language arts and crafts workshops and story hours.
“We’re able to support a lot of emerging authors, especially local authors, so it’s definitely the right audience,” Thorn says of the community. She lives about three blocks from the store.
Ruppert says he wanted “a place where people can come and they don’t have to buy anything.”
“I can remember being a young college graduate and not having very much money and going to Olsson’s or Kramer’s [bookstores] and hanging out for a couple of hours on a Friday night and reading, so that was definitely part of it.”
After nearly a year, Ruppert says, “Anna and I and the rest of the crew feel like we’re finally getting our feet underneath us.”