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Georgetown bookstore finds niche in tough economy

Staff Writer

Published: Monday, November 1, 2010

Updated: Monday, November 8, 2010 14:11

After Philip Levy kept his family waiting for six hours outside the famous Blackwell's Books in Oxford, England, he decided to open his own bookstore back home in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington D.C..                                                                                               

"I'd like to come up with something poetic, but the reality is that I was someone who wasn't really going anywhere, and my father was getting a little frustrated. But he knew I loved books," said Levy, 65, owner of Bridge Street Books, located on the 2800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest.                                                                                                                              

Levy opened Bridge Street Books in 1980, and was the sole employee for the first six months. The independent bookstore, which now has four part-time employees and two full-time employees including Levy, has been open seven non-holiday days a week, for the past thirty years.                                                                                                                                         

The two-floor bookstore, which is about 1000 square feet and carries about 30,000 titles, was renovated in 1991. About one-third of the first floor was added to the back of the store then, according to Rod Smith, the manager.                                                                        

Outside the store is a table with "unusual" books for sale, such as "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky for $3.50, according to Levy.                                                

Inside, jazz music plays. The store's walls are lined with floor to ceiling wooden bookshelves, each labeled with categories such as: women's studies, photography, arts, cultural theory, history, politics and literature.                                                                                         

The floor is lined with dingy gray carpeting, and the stairs are barely wide enough for two people to walk on side by side. From the first floor, the second floor can be seen through the opening where the original staircase used to be, according to Smith.                                        

Smith, a published poet who has taught classes in one of the top writing programs in the county at The University of Iowa, said he "does everything" as manager of the small store.       

"At other stores, there are different people for each task. Here, I buy the books, I put them away, I take the ones that didn't sell and put them back, and run the cash register," Smith said.  

Before Bridge Street Books opened, Levy received a standard backlist from the American Bookseller's Association, which depicted the contents of a standard bookstore.                      

"I took one look at that list and thought, ‘this is not going to be helpful at all.' I knew a lot about books, but not enough to stock a whole store," Levy said.                                       

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