I admire my more fiscally-savvy friends who get most of their reading material free from libraries. These far-smarter-than-me women only buy the books they really love.
But I can’t help it. If I need a new read, I’m dishing out the cash for my own copy. I love accumulating books (always the physical kind–I just can’t talk myself into digital books). I love the record they make of my reading journey. I love their color, with covers that are works of art in their own right. I love the enchantment and history and adventure each embodies.
And I especially like buying them from independent bookstores. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a hater of the big box bookstore. They have their own role in the book-buying-and-selling ecosystem. But nothing’s quite like an indie shop–they’re lovingly-curated little jewel boxes, full of surprise reads and knowledgable booksellers. And they’re intertwined in the local community in a way a national chain can never be.
Which is why I was so excited to discover East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C. (my new stomping grounds). Not unlike a good book, the store unveils ever better surprises as you progress. Reaching the store requires a jog down a flight of uninspiring concrete steps. You enter a small upstairs area with an artfully-shelved but small collection of books. A stationary section occupies much of the floor space. But then you notice a set of descending stairs and behold: a lower story that somehow manages to accommodate a beautiful children’s section, extensive shelves of adult and young adult fiction, a charming reading nook, book-themed art and knick-knacks, AND a seating area for author events… all without feeling cramped.
Their selection of books is excellent and garnished with hand-written notes by the booksellers, advocating for their favorite titles (a touch I love!). But it’s East City’s community focus that makes this place truly special. A glance at their website shows an impressive list of events and book clubs for local bibliophiles. The shop offers a consignment sales program where self-published authors can see their works shelved alongside traditionally-published books. And they have a brilliant (and free!) program for young adult readers, inviting them to read Advanced Readers Copies of books prior to publication so they can advise East City about what to stock.
A further bonus: Given their location in the heart of federal employment, East City was offering a 10% discount to furloughed government employees. They also had a wine-and-book party planned for furloughed employees that would offer an additional 20% off.
Perhaps the truest testament to their local focus, however, was the cluster of women shopping there alongside me. From their conversation with the staff and each other, it was clear that this was a favorite haunt of theirs. Any indie store that turns shoppers into frequently-visiting friends is worth its weight in books.
After the angst of trying to settle on just one book to buy–just one!?–I ended up with Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, per the recommendation of my friend and book guru Courtney. When I popped it open after leaving the shop, I got one final surprise. The copy was signed by the author.
Now that’s my kind of bookstore.
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