Interview with a Bookstore: Fountain Bookstore
Heavy Metal Authors Have the Nicest Fans
Fountain Bookstore was opened as a professional and technical bookstore (back when there were such things) by Joyce Clay. At the time, there was a need for a bookstore to serve primarily institutional and government offices in the Downtown area of Richmond, Virginia. Boo and Jim Smythe bought the store in 1985 and began the transformation of Fountain into a general interest store. In 2000, they brought in Kelly Justice to manage the store and to take it in a new direction, with a focus on events. The bookstore is housed on the ground floor of a post-Civil War reconstruction building with its original wood floors and tin ceiling still amazingly intact.
What is your favorite section of the store?
Kelly (owner): There is always something special and magical to be found in every section. Usually it’s something I forgot I ordered. But I have to say I don’t find myself hanging out in Sports or Business much.
What would you do if you had infinite space in the store?
Kelly: I would add a bunch more event space, a full demo kitchen and lease space to a wine bar. And I’d have an office with a door and a cot. I live pretty far away from the shop and the days can be long. A nap would be excellent.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
Kelly: Our worldwide online services are pretty rockin’ and very personal. For a small store, heck, for any size store, I think we knock that out of the park. I also love our events. They are different from other bookstore’s, I think. We craft our programming pretty seriously.
Who is your favorite regular?
Kelly: I have a least favorite… but I suppose I shouldn’t talk about that. We’re not supposed to even think that. But there it is. As far as a favorite, gosh, every time one leaves and I think “Oh, you are my absolute favorite!” I turn around and another walks in and then I say to myself, “Oh, no, YOU’RE my favorite! How could I ever forget YOU!” Unless it’s the first guy I mentioned. Then I don’t think that. But, in general, we are truly blessed with too many to keep track.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve encountered?
Kelly: It’s generally pretty insane around the shop. We are not a quiet little bookstore. Recently we did an off-site with Randy Blythe, lead singer of the world-famous heavy metal band Lamb of God and absolutely great guy. The book is Dark Days. Really good. Give it a shot. I was prepared for absolute chaos, but, honestly, he has the best behaved fans I’ve ever met. We had a sold-out crowd of major metal fans and they were sweet as kittens. Who knew?
What’s your earliest memory of visiting a bookstore as a child?
Kelly: Reading books on the floor of Ram’s Head with my mom in Roanoke, Virginia. They recently closed. Breaks my heart.
If you weren't running a bookstore, what would you be doing?
Kelly: I have another business idea that is really eating at my attention now. But I’m pretty much an “all in” person… so I would probably have to quite bookselling to pursue it. It would be much more lucrative most probably. But, then, most careers outside of the book world are. [Insert laugh followed by heavy sigh here.]
What’s been your biggest surprise about working in a bookstore?
Kelly: The difference between running and owning a bookstore were the biggest surprise to me. I was a manager with not a little hubris. When I took over the shop in 2008 I was unprepared for the sheer amount of paperwork required to run a business. I was much humbled by the transition and the amount of work involved in that aspect. And the computer stuff. I feel like I’m chained to the thing. On the upside, ownership has made me more active in improving my neighborhood, city and world. I feel truly invested in making our customers both in the store and online happier. Period. Welcoming people into our Fountain Family is very important to me. Being open to readers from all walks of life with all kinds of favorite books: that means more to me than anything.
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