Chris Dudley’s two daughters, ages five and three, love books – a reflection of their parents’ enthusiasm for reading and bookshops.
“My first reading memory is having Mrs. Porter, the school librarian at Crestview Elementary School, read Beverly Cleary’s Henry Huggins aloud to my class back in third grade,” says Dudley, who nicknamed his daughters Beezus and Ramona from Beverly Cleary’s books. “I loved hearing Mrs. Porter read the story.”
Dudley’s older daughter is still learning to read and has a handful of books she can read by herself. Child number two has a different approach.
“My younger daughter always has a book in her hand, and although she cannot read, she turns the pages and makes up her own stories that she ‘reads’ aloud. It’s hysterical,” says Dudley, who worked for Henrico County Public Libraries and was involved in the nonprofit Read to Them. “I think they love reading because my wife and I are always reading to them, and they’ve found that it is so much fun!”
Dudley and his family are big proponents of independent bookstores and building home libraries.
“We’re all-in. I think independent bookstores are important because they’re part of our community. They are places where my girls can visit and look at books that they can actually purchase to take home and keep forever,” Dudley says.
He finds that independent bookstores offer two important features – a high level of service and a deep well of knowledge.
“I can pop into bbgb, Fountain, or The Little Bookshop and immediately strike up a conversation with an actual human being about books. And they know how to steer me to exactly what I didn’t realize I needed. This is not possible with Amazon,” he says, adding that national chain stores can’t consistently provide that level of service either.
The Dudleys are subscribed to Year of Tales, a book-of-the-month program from bbgb. “We love the books they send us. Even though our girls get these magical book gifts delivered to our door, we also stop in the store whenever we’re in Carytown. And whenever we’re there, they each get to pick out a book,” says Dudley.
Independent bookshops support families through curating books that are relevant to them, and they connect readers to authors. For families who love reading, it goes beyond purchasing books. Author and illustrator talks help connect kids with the power of reading, and bbgb’s summer reading program incentivizes reading with a chance to win prizes.
Dudley recalled the time bbgb had author Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) in town as part of his Big-Shot Drive-Thru Tour and invited local Richmond Public Schools students to meet the author and receive a free book. “I was lucky enough to be there when this happened, and I got to witness one student who brought his stapled, hand-drawn comic book that he showed to Kinney who praised his work and encouraged him to keep writing and drawing,” says Dudley. “That magical moment was created by a local bookstore.”
Award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez has participated in author events with bbgb.
A native of Mexico, Dominguez lives in Richmond. She began as an illustrator of picture and chapter books fourteen years ago and has been an author for eleven years. Her debut middle grade novel, Stella Díaz Has Something to Say, was a New York Public Library and a Chicago Public Library pick for Best Books for Kids, Sid Fleischman Award winner, and an American Library Association Notable. She recently illustrated the New York Times Bestseller, Just Help! How to Build a Better World, written by Sonia Sotomayor.
Dominguez says she loves the fact that independent bookstores promote the love of reading and provide a welcoming place where people can discover new books and ideas.
“I adore independent bookstores,” says Dominguez. “They are run by enthusiastic readers who genuinely care about finding the perfect books for their customers.”
Celebrating Books and Readers
Jill Stefanovich, owner of bbgb in Carytown, has always been a reader, and she instilled that in her children as well. “Narnia Bookstore (1984-2010) was the place I took my children to all the time,” says Stefanovich, who opened bbgb after buying Narnia when owner Kelly Kyle put the shop on the market.
The Carytown bookshop focuses on books for children through young adults. It also has a small collection of titles for adults. One of the reasons the store is successful is the staff’s wealth of knowledge about books.
“We know our inventory. We have read everything in the shop,” says Stefanovich. “We match the reader with the right book. Every child is able to see themselves in the books that we carry because we have a wonderfully diverse collection.”
Stefanovich and her staff are also aware of the books regular customers have already purchased. “We know our customers and our readers. We know books where something happens and a child can’t handle it. We know the child that should or shouldn’t read that book. That level of touch is so important,” she says.
Stefanovich looks at books as works of art. That’s why bbgb purposefully displays books with their covers outward. “We want people to see the beautiful art,” she says.
At bbgb, Stefanovich makes it a priority to build relationships with the schools in the area and bring authors to schools in the City of Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties. “We have a reach of sixty-four schools,” she says. “We bring authors in at no charge – either in person and now, virtually, which helps expand the reach of authors.”
The shop also reaches out to area schools through its book fairs. “We are able to get a lot of books into kids’ hands,” Stefanovich says. “Giving away books is also important to us. We do book drives and donate thousands of books each year,” she says, noting a recent partnership that helped the students and teachers of William C. Fox Elementary restock their libraries after a fire devastated the school.
Being an independent bookstore owner isn’t an easy job, she adds. “This is a passion. I do this because I can’t imagine not doing it.”
Connecting with Communities
Krystle Dandridge opened her bookstore, The Book Bar in Richmond, because she feels books are an important way to open minds, create compassion, provide an escape, and teach.
“I opened a bookstore that provides a platform for Black and brown voices because one doesn’t exist, and that’s problematic,” she says.
The Book Bar launched virtually in 2021 on Juneteenth, and Dandridge opened the downtown shop on February 5, 2022, during Black History Month. The store centers BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) authors and brands, and offers books, wines, and other products from BIPOC creatives. It primarily caters to adults, but there are titles for children, middle-grade readers, and young adults.
Growing up, Dandridge loved to read and would always try to find books she could relate to. “The only bookstore I remember was Borders. The section of Black authors was always the tiniest and was typically difficult to find. That same section also typically carried predominantly urban fiction novels, and, while there’s nothing wrong with that genre, I was reading a lot of different genres and couldn’t find stories or characters that represented me,” she says.
Indie bookshops are important because they speak to the community they serve, she adds. “Indie bookstores are a hub for community, for growth, and for exploration. You have a more personal experience in indie bookstores that aren’t present with larger booksellers,” Dandridge says. “You have the exposure to author events that isn’t present in larger booksellers.”
The Book Bar hosts wine tastings, book signings, a book club, a subscription box, and a monthly poetry night. Dandridge also makes the space available for community events.
Love of Books and Bookshops
Mary Patterson, owner of The Little Bookshop in Midlothian, grew up going to local independent bookstores in San Antonio, Texas – notably, Little House of Books and The Twig.
“Wherever I have lived or vacationed, I’ve always gone to the local bookstores. Local stores and their booksellers impressed me with their knowledge and interest in books, and I always left happy,” says Patterson, who opened The Little Bookshop in 2016.
As the child of a single mom, books were “friends and confidantes and an escape,” she says. “A book was a place where I could read stories about other children and their families. Every year on my birthday and for Christmas, my mom would give me a stack of books. She wrote my name and the year in each one. I still have many of those books and treasure them. She instilled in me a love of reading that I carry with me today.”
Each independent bookstore – whether it’s in the Richmond region or on the other side of the world – is unique and special. No two are alike, she adds.
“The owners and booksellers spend many hours each week reading, reviewing, and researching books just for you,” she says. “Also, a small bookstore can focus more on customer service and really get to know its customers’ likes and dislikes.”
The Little Bookshop carries new books for all ages. “We have a large children’s section. If we don’t have the book you want, we can order it for you,” Patterson says.
Like many of the indie booksellers in the region, the store is represented on Bookshop.org – a way to buy books online that support local bookstores*. The Little Bookshop also provides free gift wrap and curbside pickup, if needed.
Patterson sponsors author events and other events – like story times and book club meetups, most of which are free. She also has a particular commitment to giving back to the community.
“Every November, we help collect books for the Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Christmas Mother. Throughout the year, we help provide books for the bookmobile that gives out books to children in Chesterfield County,” she says. “We also donate books and gift certificates to organizations and schools throughout the area. In 2021, we gave back over $5,000 in donations and books to the Midlothian and Chesterfield County community.”
Reading and the Magic of Indie Bookshops
Christa Donohue is executive director of Read to Them, a nonprofit that creates literacy programs, and the mom of three children: ages thirteen, eleven, and six.
“I remember learning to read in kindergarten and loving how the sounds came together to form words and then stories. It was like magic,” she says. Now Donohue’s younger son is learning to read.
“It’s really sweet to watch my older children read books to him. We also still read as a family. I read chapter books aloud at mealtimes, and all three kids love that,” she says.
Donohue and her family believe it’s important to support local businesses like independent bookstores.
“We all know that small businesses create a large number of jobs and offer environments that are ripe for innovation, thus building stronger communities. They are agile and able to understand the unique needs of their community in special ways,” says Donohue. “Indie bookshops often provide access to books by local authors as well as author interactions that bring stories to life, especially for young kids.”
Indie bookshops support families by bringing together local readers in a way that “big-box and online retailers can’t or don’t,” she adds. “They create community and a shared experience of literacy, which promotes a sense of belonging.”
Like other indie book store owners, bbgb’s Stevanovich is a strong supporter of reading aloud and literacy in the community. She believes her bookshop in Carytown is an indispensable part of the Richmond landscape.
“I can’t imagine living in a world without independent bookstores. You have the ability to touch the community at the source,” she says. “We are here because of the community.”
Support Richmond’s Indie Bookshops
Visit these local booksellers, or order using BOOKSHOP.org and designate your favorite Richmond-area bookseller when you check out.
3003 W. Cary Street
The largest kid-lit collection in town; lots of story times and author events in the Carytown shop and virtually; in-store options for donating children’s books.
Open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday,
10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
The Book Bar
1311 E. Main Street
Monthly book subscription box; in-store wine bar for shoppers; focus on Black authors.
Open Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
10464 Glen Eagles Ridgefield Parkway, Glen Eagles Center
New and used books for kids and adults in a new West End location. Easy parking and a unique focus on history in its Virginia section.
Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Shelf Life Books (formerly Chop Suey Books)
2913 W. Cary Street
Two levels of books in this Carytown shop; features new and used titles and specializes in graphic novels and manga.
Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
1312 E. Cary Street
Hosts a variety of author talks and book events; titles for all ages; founded in 1978 and located in Shockoe Slip.
Open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Little Bookshop
1318 Sycamore Square
Midlothian shop hosts story times and author events; convenient parking.
Open Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Midlothian Book Exchange
13198 Midlothian Turnpike
Collection of more than 175,000 books from many genres at bargain prices; offers trades for store credit.
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Photography: courtesy The Book Bar, bbgb, and The Little Bookshop
*Bookshop.org supports indies in two ways: 10% of regular sales on Bookshop.org are added to an earnings pool that is evenly divided and distributed to independent bookstores every six months.
Stores who are Bookshop affiliates, who sell books online using Bookshop (by sharing links their Bookshop link on social media, email newsletters, or on their websites) earn 30% of the cover price on any sales they generate, without having to do the work of keeping inventory, picking, packing, shipping or handling complaints and returns. (30% of the cover price is the entire profit margin – Bookshop doesn’t earn money off bookstore sales, all profits go to the store.)
Bookstores do need to be ABA members and have a physical location bookstore (cannot be online or events only) in order to qualify for the bookstore affiliate program on Bookshop. All online or events only booksellers are very welcome to join our 10% media affiliate program on Bookshop.org.