Gallery celebrates 45 years and Independent Bookstore Day

WINCHESTER — Everyone loves an underdog and the Winchester Book Gallery, like hundreds of small independent bookstores, has outlived mega-book giants like Barnes & Noble and Borders.

Located on the Piccadilly/Loudon Street corner of Old Town’s pedestrian mall, the Book Gallery will celebrate the third annual national Independent Bookstore Day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 29 – the second day of this year’s Apple Blossom Festival.

Christine Patrick and husband Brian have owned the store for five years and she says the secret to success of any strong independent bookstore is a curious community. Brian works in the Loudon County Health Department and is executive director of Skyline Indie Film Festival.

“Winchester is an interesting place and a bookstore has a great role to play in it,” she said, offering a unique selection of books mingled with involvement in Old Town events and dedicated customer catering.

“We are very much a curated seller,” said Patrick, who screens and select books based on “what has sold, what will sell and knowing who our customers are.”

Despite living in the digital age, today 38 percent of the population reads only print books, 28 percent read print and digital books, 6 percent read only digital books while 26 percent don’t read books at all, according to a 2016 PEW Research Center study.

“If you buy a real book, you have it forever and can share it with friends,” said Patrick. “They have a different value.”

However, the store does sell e-books because “our goal is to sell to a diversity of people,” said Patrick, who uses social media to anchor her bookstore author signings, special events and engagement of readers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.

“We want to be most accessible to our customers in any way they want to find us,” she said, expertly using her computer to search 5 million book titles from hundreds of sources, including Amazon.com.

The two-story building’s wall and aisle shelves are stocked with 26,000 books representing 7,000 titles, which are churned carefully through a twice-a-year inventory turnover.

It’s been a bookstore on the same site for 45 years, according to Patrick, who adds a rumor that in 1942 it was a French restaurant run by an Italian posing as a Frenchman.

On Independent Bookstore Day, Gallery highlights will include poetry, stories, puppet shows, games for all ages, a Bingo challenge and a photo booth.

That’s in addition to limited editions and unique art items available that day only in 490-plus independent bookstores nationally, but not online or in chain stores. See: www.indiebookstoreday.com.

The national Independent Bookstore Day comes after an increase last year to 2,322 independent bookstores, up from 2,227 in 2015, according to the American Booksellers Association.

Borders has folded, Barnes and Noble has closed nearly 100 of its stores and Amazon, now the biggest seller of books, has started opening its own stores, modeled after independent bookstores like The Gallery.

Patrick credits success to the extensive and eclectic nature of her titles, so when customers come in for a particular book in a particular genre, they can browse and find a new title that interests them.

She believes bookstores have to evolve with the times and thus she doesn’t stock her shelves with best sellers easily found in seemingly ubiquitous chain stores like Costco and Target, which can volume discount prices.

That translates to meaning independent, unique bookstores, like sports teams, have faithful fans.

Rebecca Thomas, who moved with her family from Frederick County’s Pioneer Heights to Ohio a year and a half ago, was back for a visit recently when the family stopped in the bookstore.

“When we lived here, it was always a joy to visit,” said Thomas, as she browsed the aisles.

“A good bookstore is hard to pass up,” she confessed, ending up buying a book titled “Butter: A Rich History” by Elaine Khosrova.

The Gallery offers an inclusive subject list – Business, Travel, Art, Humor, Young Adults, Local Cooking, Children, Biography, Politics, History, Religion, Sports and Health, and, of course, several Civil War titles.

Visitors may find author signings, monthly game nights, live music, availability and support for select Old Town events (she is a past president of The Old Town Winchester Business Association and helped create events like Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday).

Patrick is a strong supporter of Handley Library, just two blocks away.

“Bookstores love libraries,” she said, “because the more people read the better we do. Literacy is key to making a good community a strong community.”

Store browsers also find puzzles, music CDs, espresso coffee cups with quotes, greeting cards, refrigerator magnets, children’s games, stationery and learning mats.

With small margins but loyal customers Patrick said, “We hold our own, we are not getting rich quickly. Owning a bookstore is a long play, not a short one.”

A Religious Studies and Philosophy graduate from DePaul University, Patrick, who previously ran a physical therapy practice and heating/air conditioning business, enjoys running her own business.

“I like studying people,” Patrick said. “I never had my degree be more useful than here in the bookstore.”

Contact Tom Crosby at news@nvdaily.com