Locally Owned

Karen, with a rare book from her collection

Local businesses are few and far between these days. Each has its own folklore and flavor, and collectively they carry the history of their communities with them. Through the years, the owners of our shops, markets and restaurants have become the keepers of Georgetown’s stories. We hope everyone supports our local businesses, for without our support, they will surely disappear, and with them would go our personal history.

Bartleby’s Books: a book lover’s haven in danger

Bartleby’s Books is a store for book lovers, for people who get chills while running their fingers along the spines of dusty classics. There are no shiny advertisements for the latest beach read, but with a little bit of searching you can find some true literary gems. Bartleby’s Books sells rare and antiquarian books, as well as used books. It is a hot spot for both avid rare book collectors and those interested in simply finding a good read. The joy of Bartleby’s Books, as John Thomson, one its owners so aptly described it, is, “The ability to go into the stacks…and make discoveries on your own.”

The owners of the store, Karen Griffin and John Thomson, are a bookish pair. They have been in the business of selling books for 26 years. Their shop has moved around quite a bit but is now nestled on 29th Street. John and Karen have both always loved books, and as their store evolved, they found themselves focusing on progressively more rare books. Karen’s eyes lit up as she carefully showed me some of their more prized acquisitions, including a volume of Henry Thoreau’s writings containing a handwritten manuscript. Their store is part of the Antiquarian Book Sellers of America, and as such they have sold books to Georgetown University, the Library of Congress, as well as many private collectors. The collectors who come into Bartleby’s Books have diverse interests. “We learn from our customers,” says John, “because they are passionate about what they are interested in.”

During our interview, I watched John and Karen chat with a customer, sharing in his delight over a time-worn brochure. They answered his questions and offered recommendations. It was clear that they just love putting people and books together. Watching them interact with their customer reinforced just how unique this small business is. After spending just an hour with the owners of Bartleby’s Books, my heart ached to think that the shop will most likely be forced out of its current location when its lease expires in July 2011. Their landlord intends to replace the quiet elegance of Bartleby’s Books with a restaurant. It is unfortunate that Georgetown will lose this cultural jewel in favor of yet another dime-a-dozen eatery. Stores like Bartleby’s Books preserve the charm and personality of Georgetown.

If forced out of its current location, Bartleby’s Books will most likely retreat to the Internet. The literary treasures housed in Bartleby’s Books and the wealth of knowledge of its owners simply cannot be translated to a webpage. Searching for books on the internet also deprives the readers of the opportunity to peruse, to stumble upon great books. The loss of Bartleby’s Books will be a tragedy for the community.

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