New independent bookstore belongs in and to Petworth neighborhood

Media Credit: File Photo by Olivia Harding | Hatchet Photographer

Upshur Street Books

For the first time in over a decade, D.C. has a new independent bookstore.

Upshur Street Books, founded and owned by Paul Ruppert, the man behind Petworth restaurants Petworth Citizen and Crane & Turtle, opened its doors Saturday.

About an eight-minute walk north from the Georgia Avenue Metro stop on the Green and Yellow lines, Upshur Street Books stood out among the dark exterior of neighboring Petworth Citizen and the other weathered buildings on the street with piles of bright balloons and its freshly painted white facade.

Neighborhood residents stopped by, saying hello to familiar faces and making small talk among the stacks. Children took pieces of Halloween candy out of a small bucket on the cashier stand while dogs waited patiently outside tied to the entrance railing. Everything about the store felt like it belonged not just in the neighborhood but also to the neighborhood.

There was no shortage of visitors on opening day – when I was there an hour after it opened, the store was bustling with more than a dozen people.

The small store, comprising only one floor of what used to be a hair salon, doesn’t have much yet – some of the shelves on the moveable rolling tables were still empty – but it offers a wide selection of genres often ignored by other bookstores, like graphic novels and works by local writers and artists.

The local authors table was full of small booklets, like blogger Emily Hillard’s “Pie for Dogs,” and handmade cards with a sign urging visitors to “read local.”

There’s a large section of young adult and children’s books so anyone in the Petworth and larger D.C. area can pick up something to flip through. Of course, most of the store is fiction, and I was thoroughly impressed by the range of titles – everything from “Beowulf” and “Macbeth” to “Harry Potter” and “The Alchemist” – considering how small the store is. Books covered in newspaper and adorned with black labels served as subject dividers, giving the store a more home-grown atmosphere.

The space itself departs from the traditional dark wood and the looming shelves of other bookstores. A large front window allows light to stream inside. Light wood floors and bright green walls invite visitors to come and browse. Though there isn’t much space to sit, a bench in front of the window and a few chairs in the back are good for a quick read of a first chapter before making a purchase.

Perhaps the most browsing-friendly feature of the store is the contoured bookshelves: The bottom three shelves gradually recline out, allowing you to read the spines of the books without having to crouch on the ground and block other eager readers.

And while it doesn’t have that old-book smell of Bridge Street Books, or the aroma of overpriced espresso like at Kramerbooks, Upshur Street Books is carving a niche in the independent bookstore realm. This is a bookstore for the locals: It has the feel of a highly-organized home bookshelf in the best possible way.

The selections feel familiar, like the books you’ve always seen sitting on your parent’s shelves, though all the copies are brand new. Meanwhile, the open space around the shelves and tables makes the store feel like home – not overbearing, not crowded.

And if you, like me, can’t avoid judging a book by its cover, Upshur Street Books is the perfect place to find those artistic, well-designed renditions of both older classics and newer releases.

A 75th Anniversary edition of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and a Hogwarts Library Collection, which included “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Quidditch Through the Ages” and “The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” begged me to buy them as replacements for the generic copies on my shelves at home. There’s no need to settle for Barnes & Noble Classics, though there were a few of them sprinkled throughout the shelves.

If I wasn’t in the midst of an end-of-semester bank account dry spell, I surely would have left with a handful of books.

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