This is the next story in a series about the women entrepreneurs and business owners along Upshur Street in Petworth. Join us as we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th with a special community event free for the whole family.
Born in Annapolis, adopted at an early age into a family of five, she grew up in Elkton, Maryland north of Baltimore, where three states met up in her backyard. Mix a Tolkien and CS Lewis fan with a "recovering academic" who has a Masters from American University, a self-starter and an artist who’s also an experienced bookseller, and you only scratch the surface of Hannah Oliver Depp, the new owner of Loyalty Books at 827 Upshur Street NW.
Raised to focus on hard work by self-described hippie parents, home-schooled, with a large extended family, Hannah was taught the benefit of the do-it-yourself mantra and being immersed in being busy. Self-determination and "anything is possible if you work hard enough" mixes with a strong inner (and outwardly focused) passion.
While at American for graduate school, she took a job with Politics & Prose, and discovered she loved being in a bookstore and having an immediate impact upon people. Working in retail, she was able to use all her skills in one place, whether it was re-covering a chair, fixing some plumbing, doing administrative bookkeeping or recommending a book to a customer. It was all great.
"The bookseller community is where everybody — and I am not that unique in that community — it's a crazy collection of humans who are booksellers," she said. "It's wonderful."
That community welcomed Hannah with open arms, and all of her interests fell into place. Hannah knew what her future held, but not her direction. That would come later.
The world of independent booksellers fascinates Hannah, especially how these independents can impact publishers — showing the bookstores’ usefulness and need inside communities. "Bookstores are a weird business model," she says. "But one of the things I enjoy the most is that we really do have an impact on what gets seen and published, transforming a book from nothing into something."
After five years with Politics & Prose, Hannah knew she had her career. She developed mentors who could help guide her, took on different roles, did a myriad of different jobs and got a well-rounded experience that prepared her to step out on her own. She spent more than two years at Word Bookstore in Jersey City and Brooklyn, working alongside owner Christine Onorati, who is known for nurturing young talent in the industry.
She came back to the DC area to focus on her dream of owning her own store, and through her work consulting for independent bookstores and a friendship with Anna Thorn, who was the prior manager of Upshur Street Books, was introduced to Paul Ruppert. Hannah wanted to bring an independent bookstore to Silver Spring, an area that has been underserved by the industry and where she spent many years as a youth. Paul suggested they partner together to open the first Loyalty Books in Silver Spring as a temporary “pop-up” store. Hannah first thought she would take a year to open something, but then she realized she had to take a chance.
“I thought that opportunities don’t happen a lot for brown female entrepreneurs who are just starting out,” she said. “I thought ‘Ok, I’ll do the pop-up and learn from Paul.’”
The Silver Spring store was an experiment, and it turned out to be a successful experiment. It quickly became obvious that Hannah needed something permanent.
When Ruppert mentioned Upshur Street Books and that it needed a mission and someone committed to the neighborhood to take it over, Hannah realized she had the opportunity she was waiting for.
“Paul’s passion for Petworth is… palpable,” Hannah says, laughing.
She bought the store and rebranded it as Loyalty Bookstore. She’s made the space her own, both figuratively and literally.
A remodeled interior fits the direction that Hannah wants the store to go, mixing kids-focused books on one side of the store with adult and more contemporary works along the other. Graphic novels, poetry, artwork, calendars, best sellers and odd ball books are all to be found. Comfy chairs up front invite customers to stay a while, while special events invite others to come in and discover the benefits of a community book store.
Hannah is focused on the success of the Petworth Loyalty Bookstore, where it will be in five or ten years, while planning for the future and looking to open again in Silver Spring. Her age can be a challenge for others — she’s in her early 30s — as she looks to convince investors that her skills, resume and experience well-prepare her for the work ahead. Being a female manager and owner also leads to confusion sometimes, as people — mainly men — assume a male coworker or employee is the owner, not the young woman of color standing behind the counter.
Hannah knows that to be successful, you have to know your strengths and your weaknesses. Find the right people who fill those gaps, and support what you do well. Her strengths, she says, are connecting to customers, long hours, talking about books — and making and doing. “I can make something out of nothing,” she laughs. “You give me a hot glue gun… we’re going to have a store.”
"There's literally nothing easy about this,” she said. “But there's also nothing more satisfying than this. And I think that if that's your attitude, then you're doing the right thing. If it's a thing you care about it, you should just go for it.”