Our Indie Spotlight shines today on Bards Alley, in Vienna, Virginia. The combination bookstore/café offers a homey, intimate space to browse for your favorite book and sample some local fare including coffee, hummus, bakery items, and even wine.
Owner Jen Morrow opened Bards just ten months ago and says the idea came as she watched her young son learn how to read. During that time, Jen rediscovered the nostalgia of going to a bookstore, and thus Bards Alley was born.
Here’s more from Jen:
MUF: What’s the biggest challenge in keeping an independent bookstore alive when the competition from big bookstores is so fierce?
Jen: It is simply finding ways to leverage being “small but mighty.” We don’t have access to the same resources, but what we are able to do locally is a differentiator. We employ people in the community, pay local taxes, donate to schools and non-profits, and bring customers to the town center who will hopefully shop at other local businesses. By offering in-store events, many of which provide access to authors, a curated selection of books tailored for our community, and programs for local aspiring writers, we are promoting culture and diversity. A place where people can unplug for awhile. I love it when a customer steps into the store, takes a deep breath, and says, “Ah, I love the smell of books!”
MUF: We love the smell of books too! What do you love most about Bards Alley?
Jen: I love seeing the joy on people’s faces when they walk in for the first time. I can’t tell you how many “thank-you’s” I have received over the past ten months. It is clear that our community was looking for a place to browse and talk about books, across many generations and genres of readers.
MUF: You clearly focus on making everything look welcoming—including folding the café experience right into that ambiance.
Jen: We take pride in how we curate local offerings as closely as we curate our book selections. Our outdoor patio is very popular this time of year! With our café, we are able to provide book clubs and customers who attend our author events a convenience that other bookstores can’t provide.
MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re always interested in what readers want. What titles (fiction and non-fiction) do you find yourself most recommending to readers ages 8-12—and their parents? Which titles are the ones most frequently asked for?
Jen: This is such a good question! Series are wildly popular at our store, and I find myself recommending The Unwanteds, which my son (who is almost 11) read through in a few short weeks. I’ll also recommend anything by Stuart Gibbs and Louis Sachar. Debut novels are also a favorite of mine to recommend and recently I have talked a lot about The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes, as well as Orphan Island. Our young customers are also seeking graphic novels such as Smile and Drama and El Deafo. But we have also been recommending a lot of new and old classics, such as A Wrinkle in Time, Hatchet, Tuck Everlasting, and Anne of Green Gables. We are also seeing popularity with a lot of fiction based on real-life events, such as Refugee and The War that Saved My Life. Of course, most people have found Harry Potter on their own, but I can’t help but recommend it to those who haven’t yet given it a try!
One last note: this summer Bards will be offering a Summer Reading Challenge for school-aged children: read a book in each of these categories:
- Biography or Non-fiction
- Comic book or graphic novel
- A book written by an author of color
MUF: Thank you so much, Jen!
Bards Alley is located at 110 Church Street, in Vienna, VA.