Downtown Books Finds 'Beautiful' Response in Lexington, Va.

"I've wanted to do this since I was six or seven years old," said Paige Williams, co-owner of Downtown Books in Lexington, Va. She and Jay Williams opened the general-interest bookstore on May 29, after Williams spent years researching the bookselling business.

"As a young child," Williams recalled, "I would set up a bookstore in our family room. I pretended their books were in my store and sold them to family members and imaginary customers. As I got older the desire to have my own shop only grew."

Thanks to her "book obsession," Williams had a business plan already in place when her local indie bookstore closed during the pandemic. She felt very strongly that there should be a "bookstore of this type" in Lexington, which she called a "reading town." At the same time, Covid seemed to be "loosening its hold," and all she needed was the right space. While walking through downtown Lexington one evening, she and Jay Williams "spotted an open storefront with the perfect interior, hardwood floors, tin ceilings and a creaky glass door." Remarkably fast, Williams said, "it all came together."

Paige Williams

In addition to books for children, teens and adults, the approximately 1,000-square-foot store sells a variety of nonbook items like handmade candles, handmade jewelry, locally roasted coffee, textiles and greeting cards. Williams explained that she's tried to source her sidelines from local artisans, very small businesses or "businesses with a purpose." As an example she pointed to blankets from a company that gives 10% of its proceeds to a shelter for abused women. She's also added some seating, and the store offers bottled water and warm cider.

"People know they can come and get away," Williams said. "They can separate from stress."

Since opening, Downtown Books has already hosted one book launch and four book signings. There are plans for a book launch in November, a signing in December and a few for early next year. There is a Downtown Literary Society that meets at the store once per month; Williams noted that it's different from a conventional book club, because all of the members read different things and the "goal is to learn about new authors and genres we might not have considered." When it's safe to host larger groups indoors, Williams will host children's storytime sessions and educational events with professors from the two nearby universities.

Asked how the Lexington community has responded to her store, Williams said they've been "supportive and welcoming." When the store first opened people frequently stopped by to congratulate Williams and tell her how glad they were the store was there. The "town has come out of the woodwork," to say "we want you to succeed." She also guessed that she's met more Lexington residents since the store opened than she would have over the course of a few years.

Customers are going out of their way to support the store, even in the face of supply-chain issues that have in some cases led to books taking six weeks to arrive. All told they've been remarkably patient and understanding. "The people in this town," Williams said, "are of a mindset that they want to support us and they will do what it takes. They're trying to help me and I'm trying to help them. It's really kind of beautiful." --Alex Mutter

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