VIENNA, VA — Jennifer Morrow and Leah Grover of Bards Alley Bookshop – owned by Morrow — reflected on COVID’s effects on the establishment and the woman dominant bookshop industry.
Morrow opened the independent bookstore to foster a space for individuals of all ages to exchange ideas, receive personalized recommendations, discover new titles and local authors.
She said watching her son suddenly learning how to read made her want to open the bookstore.
Learning How to Read
Morrow’s son is one of the reasons for opening the bookstore.
“I took for granted how we as humans learn how to read,” Morrow said. “The first two things children learn are speaking words and understanding words. There was something about seeing him look at the letters and words and saying them all of a sudden.”
She said this is what spurred her to open the bookstore – parents being able to read with their child, access to books and she said reading is so important to build a foundation for a successful future.
Other than the need for the bookstore for children like her son, she wanted to give this a shot.
She opened it July 2017. On the bookshop’s opening day, Grover emailed Morrow in search of a job. Grover was surprised when Morrow hired her nine months later to be a bookseller. Grover is now the bookstore’s marketing and events manager.
Women Owned and Operated
While Morrow is the owner of the bookstore, she did not realize majority of her workers would be women. She said it just happened.
“I think bookstores are typically female dominant,” she said. “I think anybody that is shopping in a bookstore has a love for books in common and we’re our own people. What amazes me is just watching different generations come in the store. The longer we have been open: the more diverse our customers, the more diverse our books are, the diverse set of authors – and I’m really proud of that.”
She thinks that is possible because they have progressive women on the bookselling team. She said some men have been involved with the bookstore and they have the same progressive energy.
Grover said she has really enjoyed working in this type of environment.
“As a young woman, where this is the beginning of my career,” she said. “It has been wonderful being in a woman dominant space to have that support has been really meaningful to me. I grew up with this expectation that I wasn’t going to have that – it has been wonderful, refreshing, lovely and powerful.”
Morrow said pre-COVID they had regular attendees at the bookstore, the café would be full in the evenings for wine and coffee, and they always had flexibility with events.
“We were really a community gathering space,” she said.
Because of COVID they had to hire an extra staff person to monitor the door, no in-person events, and they still have regulars and more people know about them now.
Morrow said customers have voiced they don’t want the bookstore to go away.
Grover said they have always had loyal community members, but she thinks COVID has made people in the neighborhood want to be more supportive.
They said their customers have adapted well during COVID. The building was shut down at the beginning of COVID. Because the bookstore did not have an e-commerce platform, their customers ordered books by calling or emailing the establishment. Customers had to make appointments to pick up books.
Morrow said gradually by summer 2020 they were able to let people back in.
Grover chimed in:
“I have seen a wonderful trend with our customers where they will ask, ‘What is the best way to support you?’”
The two said website, Bookshop, is the best way. Bookshop supports independent books store that don’t have an e-commerce store. Morrow said customers can click their local bookstore’s link on Bookshop and have their books delivered to their home.
The Bards Alley Experience
Morrow described the experience she wants customers to have when visiting or purchasing from the bookstore.
“I want them to have a personalized service, exclusiveness and kindness,” she said. “I also know they want a well-curated selection.”
Grover described a similar experience.
“I want them to feel they’re supporting individuals and our team of booksellers,” she said. “I want it to feel like we’re a hometown bookstore, I think our customer’s already feel that way.”
Morrow chose the name “Bards Alley” because “Bard” refers to Elizabethan writer, William Shakespeare. “Alley” refers to J.K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series. Morrow is a Harry Potter fan.
Her metaphor for it:
“Alleys are a place of discovery,” she said. “I always loved walking down the nooks in the library – where I could escape into those shelves. I liked the idea of going down a narrow alley and being surrounded by books. I love when authors take something like an alley and making it into something so creative.”
To learn more about the bookstore, click here.