Does your idea of a relaxing Saturday include walking the aisles at a local bookstore, perusing all the exciting histories and epic adventures at your fingertips? If so, when you’re heading out for your next read, make sure to pop into East City Bookshop in Capitol Hill. Not only is it a quaint neighborhood bookshop unlike the huge corporate entities, but it has a great story behind it.
Laurie Gillman had lived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for a long time. She had raised a family there and loved the community; there was even a local bookstore nearby to bring her kids to. However, in 2009, that bookstore closed. It was then that the seeds of an idea began growing for Laurie.
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As she described it, “It really bothered me that we had to go across town or to Virginia to find a bookstore. My kids got a little older, and I thought, ‘What do I really want to be doing at this point in my life?’ I got this idea, and I couldn’t let it go.”
Having never worked for a bookstore, she launched into research, starting at the American Booksellers Association website. It was there that she found out about a course in Amelia Island, Florida—five days, eight hours a day—on how to open a bookstore.
Of course, taking a course doesn’t automatically set you up with a bookstore in a box. Laurie said the most difficult part was finding a space.
She explained, “In Capitol Hill, every landlord wanted a restaurant. When I talked to people about opening a bookstore, they would laugh.”
Eventually, she was able to secure a location, and East City Bookshop came to be. The Capitol Hill community took to it almost immediately. Laurie explained that there was an instant feeling in those who lived there that “this is my bookstore—my neighborhood bookstore.”
A book club was launched within a few weeks of the store’s opening, kids were stopping in after school, and dogs became regular…often forcing their owners in once they learned there were treats waiting.
East City Bookshop displays flyers for local events and pictures of the dogs that have come in. It hosts a story time two or three times a week that is always full with parents, caretakers and nannies bringing along the local little ones.
Not only is it impressive that Laurie took such a left turn in life, starting a bookshop out of the blue, but she is also a pioneer for women in the DC area. East City Bookshop is a special place in that it’s a DC female-owned and female-operated independent bookstore in the DC area.
Laurie says, “I didn’t even think about it going in; people were just so happy there was a bookstore.” But as she got up and running, she realized all the other bookstores in the area were either owned and operated by men or by a husband and wife. She explained, “There is really an acknowledged effort in this area to try and change that. It’s definitely on the forefront of people’s minds.”
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Small Business Saturday is TOMORROW! Join us for a special storytime early in the morning, bookseller-baked treats while they last, face-painting, a puppet show, and – most importantly – beer and whiskey from 5 to close! #independentbookstore #easternmarket #capitolhill #indiesfirst #eastcitybookshop #eastcitybestcity
In the past, independent bookstores have faced challenges, especially competing with the big corporate stores. However, Laurie is hopeful that there is an uphill climb away from the challenges.
“I think the fact that so many bookstores have closed—people start to realize there are things that a bookstore has that people want: to be able to flip through the books and to be able to talk to people about books,” she said.
For those interested in pursuing a similar path or taking on a career they had never considered before, Laurie had some advice.
“Be OK with not knowing, and being OK with what might feel like really dumb questions. You hold yourself back because of those little fears. The little embarrassments aren’t the things you remember.”
It’s not all work and no play for Laurie, though it is mostly work! When asked about her favorite things to do in the DC area, she laughed.
“Let me see if I can remember when I’ve had any free time!” She did have a suggestion for your next day off—a favorite activity of hers. “I was an art historian in a previous life. I especially like to go to the National Gallery, where I can wander through the halls and say, oh my God. I can just walk down the hill and look at this incredible world-class art. That’s amazing.”
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Looking for a new book club? Fiction, YA, Memoir – your new favorite book club just might be meeting at the shop this fall. Whine and Angst, our YA Book Club for adults, is pictured above. More info on all our book clubs through the link in our bio! #acreativedc #bookstagram #bookclub #eastcitybookshop #fromtwinklewithlove #easternmarket #freeindc
Next time you’re looking for a new book, make sure you stop in at East City Bookshop and pay Laurie a visit. Shop for your next read, join the book club or check out one of its exciting upcoming author events! And don’t forget to share your experience with DC Fray using #FrayLife and #DCFray.