“So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me, and reminded me that there are good things in the world.”—Vincent Van Gogh
There’s nothing like the feel of a bookstore: the smell of the paper, the colors of the covers, the weight of a book in your hands, the pleasure of whiling away the time browsing for just the right title. With the rise of online shopping, many small bookstores (and some large ones) disappeared, unable to compete. But bit by bit, small bookstores are making a comeback as people seek out the experience of shopping for books. Book Blvd, upstairs from Sight at 502 Wyoming Avenue, hopes to provide that experience, as well as a shared meeting place for the community.
“Books are transformational,” says Shelly Helser, owner of Book Blvd. An avid reader, she turned to books at an early age when the family TV broke and her father refused to get it fixed. “Reading saves me from causing chaos.” As she neared the end of her career at P&G, Helser started looking for the next chapter in her life. A bookstore was the perfect fit.
“It’s become my muse,” she says.
The shop opened with a soft launch in October of last year, and has since expanded into a second suite of spacious, airy rooms. Couches and armchairs sit beneath tall windows so visitors can read comfortably, and long tables can accommodate group activities or meetings. It is this function that makes Book Blvd different from the typical bookshop.
“Folks need a place to hang out,” Helser says. “We want to be that place. In our case, the books are part of the experience, not just the product.”
To that end, Book Blvd operates with an unusual price structure. Anyone can walk in and buy a book, of course, and every book in the store costs the same two dollars. But the store also offers memberships for families, individuals, and students. Those who join may sell books back, help themselves to coffee, use the wi-fi, and get discounted admission to special Book Blvd events. Most importantly, members may also use the space for their own purposes—even if the store is closed. Each member receives access to the exclusive website, where they can reserve the rooms and learn the passcode so they can come inside after hours, any time they like. “We’ve had book clubs meet here and side-gig folks use it as an office or for meetings,” says Helser. “We’ve even had families use the space as a winter escape, to get out of the house for a while.” She envisions it as a place where kids can hang out after school, adults can host friends without having to clean their houses first, or community groups can gather.
Book Blvd is still a work in progress; there are cartons of books waiting to be opened, shelves of novels to be sorted and alphabetized, inventory to be obtained. Helser admits that she still has a lot to learn. “We haven’t figured out everything that we’re doing,” she says. “But we are in it for the long haul.”
Book Blvd is currently open Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. til 5 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. til 3 p.m. Look for the blackboard sign in front of Sight during business hours.
Annual memberships are $55 for families, $35 for individuals, and $15 for students.