This is turning into an exciting month for booksellers — and their customers — in the nation’s capital.
On Thursday, Politics and Prose announced plans to stock and manage the retail book sections of five Busboys and Poets restaurants. That innovative arrangement will greatly expand the reach of the venerable Chevy Chase bookstore.
And an all-new spot for book buyers just sprouted up, too. Upshur Street Books in Northwest Washington has completed its first week of business.
The 800-square-foot store is the latest labor of love from Paul Ruppert. The native Washingtonian owns two restaurants facing each other on opposite sides of Upshur Street: Petworth Citizen and Crane & Turtle. When a nearby storefront became available, he decided to take his first jump into retail. “I’ve never worked in a bookstore,” Ruppert says, “but I’ve always loved them. I’ve always thought of them as the focus of the cultural life in Washington and other cities.”
But Ruppert knew that a bookstore would be a different enterprise with its own challenges. He spent a year working on the concept, a process that included assembling an ad hoc committee of local writers, bibliophiles and former bookstore employees. Then he put up $100,000 of his own money and turned to the community for additional support. His project won a Great Streets Small Business Capital Improvement grant for $80,000 in May. In September, he raised $20,000 on Kickstarter by promising “the first new independent bookstore to open in Washington, DC in 10 years.”
On opening day, Nov. 1, customers showed their enthusiasm by lining up in front of the store. “We had 40 percent higher sales than we had expected,” Ruppert says. “We had customers all day long.”
Anna Thorn, the general manager of Upshur Street Books, was formerly the programs manager at Politics and Prose. She describes the store as a general bookstore with about 3,300 titles that offers a little of everything. “The goal of the stock is to have the best of the big titles — the books that people are coming in for — next to lesser-known but worthy titles that you might not find elsewhere.”
One of the store’s central aims is to serve as a community gathering space. “We’re having a great time planning all sorts of events,” Thorn says. “Some of the likely candidates are traditional author events and local author panels, writing workshops and classes, book groups, kids’ sing-alongs and storytimes, and some different kinds of programs like play readings, bookmaking, trivia nights and movie nights — ‘Book v. Movie.’ ”
Everyone is invited to the grand opening party on Nov. 15. During the day, the store will offer live music, yoga and a sing-along for children. That night, the celebration will move to the Warehouse Theater, which Ruppert also founded, for readings by George Pelecanos, Alice McDermott, Ethelbert Miller and Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda. Tickets ($25) can be purchased on the store’s Facebook page.
“It is always wonderful to see a new independent bookstore open,” McDermott says. “Especially great when the bookstore is in a neighborhood like Petworth with lots of youthful energy, not to mention youthful readers.”
Ruppert knows firsthand what an important role bookstores can play in people’s lives. Nineteen years ago, he met a young woman at the Olsson’s bookstore in Penn Quarter. Now they’re married with four children — and many books.