Part of the charm of my DC neighborhood, Dupont Circle, is the variety of retailers, large and small, that surround the actual circle/park. Eateries, booksellers, salons and nick-knack shops of all kinds gave the place a special attraction.
Since I moved to DC in 2003, I’ve seen the slow decline of the locals in the neighborhood.
First it was Kemp Mill Music, who couldn’t keep up with the internet and the loss-leader shops (Best Buy and Circuit City), and whose neighbor, Melody Records, had a more knowledgeable staff and loyal clientele.
Then it was District Hardware and The Bike Shop, whose landlord refused to renew their lease after decades in their 20th & P location. They’ve since moved to the West End, across from the West End Library, but it’s not the same.
Now I hear that Olsson’s Books and Records, one of the few local chains that really did things well, is closing its doors and filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This was the only good local bookstore in Dupont, and their staff were helpful and actually knew something about books and music. They had recently started a video rental service that was top-notch: a great selection of classic, foreign, Criterion Collection and rare films that had very reasonable rental rates. There was never a hint of attitude there, other than kindness and a willingness to make sure you left happy.
Now I’m left with either Kramerbooks (who never have any special sales, and whose staff are always too busy wrangling the crowds heading to the bar and restaurant to be of any real assistance) or Books-A-Million (nÃ©e Crown Books, and a wannabe clone of Barnes & Noble: impersonal, Ã¼ber chainy and depressing) for my new book purchasing needs in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.
There are two used booksellers in the neighborhood: the overpriced Second Story Books and the funky, not-for-profit Books For America charity shop. But if I’m looking for something current, or for a special order that’s handled with a friendly smile and nary a complaint, I’m now stuck with going up Connecticut Avenue a long ways, to Politics & Prose.
So to my friends who read this: please support your locally-based retailers whenever you can! Sure, Barnes & Noble may be closer, and Best Buy may be cheaper, but they have no soul, and simply make every town look like every other town.
I’m headed to Melody Records after work – best to drown my sorrows in some new music.