by James Cullum
At his store, Walls of Books, Pablo Sierra is finding his rhythm and getting a deeper understanding of how much there is to know about community engagement and bookselling. The Park View store opened in January 2016 at 3325 Georgia Avenue and features more than 40,000 used books, and it's the first retail business Pablo has ever owned. From the very beginning, Pablo wanted his bookstore to be a community gathering place, and he’s made that happen through free weekly events, including kids' story time, kids' yoga, creative writing workshops and author readings.
“Customer service, community engagement and book diversity are critical to the success of the store,” Pablo said. “And being an introvert, learning about customer service and community engagement has been tough.”
The work to be extroverted may not be as hard as Pablo thinks. According to customer Betsy Kosmin, the store has become a great addition to the life of herself and her one year old son, Ben.
“Firstly, Pablo is fantastic. His smiling face is great,” Betsy said. “I’m really appreciative of all the family activities; the story time on Wednesday and Saturday have improved my family’s repertoire of events. And Pablo is so nice when it’s too hot for the playground and we just want to hang out. And we still find something to buy every time.”
“We know that Park View, and DC in general, are communities made up of readers and writers,” Pablo said. “We want to support these communities with programs, events, and a diversity of affordable books.”
It took Pablo nearly a decade to become his own boss.
“I’ve always been a reader,” Pablo said. “I’ve always been a big bookstore and library person. I liked the calmness,” he said, laughing. “But it’s only calm when you’re browsing books, though. Not when you actually own the store. It’s something that I always wanted to do. I always felt that I would either own my own business or I’d find a job I’d really enjoy,” he said.
Now, almost seven months after the official opening of the store, Pablo says business is good. “We’re on track. It’s almost like dog paddling: you can’t let up… but that’s all business,” he said. “I actually did a business plan for a bookstore in 2014, and found it’s incredibly difficult to open a new retail book store, at least for me. That’s when I stumbled across the Walls of Books franchise. Having a franchise takes years of money and experience off what I would’ve otherwise done.”
Pablo’s “What have I done?!” moment was just before the store opened, when he first laid eyes on an initial inventory of 30,000 books.
“When the truck with the books showed up — after a fiasco of getting them in the city — the back of the truck opened and I saw all the books. A tear almost trickled down my cheek,” he said. “The truck was never ending, with pallets and pallets going to infinity. We had to get the truck emptied by sundown and it was already noon.”
The store inventory is now largely supplied by trade-ins for store credit. Customers routinely drop off boxes of used and new books, which have included an entire series of first edition Kurt Vonnegut novels, a complete Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy,” and recent releases such as “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life.”
“I’m really excited about the trade-in program. We see what the community is reading and writing and what they want to read about,” Pablo said. “It keeps it fresh. Over time, I hope the store reflects the thoughts of the community.”
The businesses in the neighborhood have also been supportive. On the grand opening in February, Colony Club (3118 Georgia Ave NW) donated coffee and Heat Da Spot, another café about two blocks south from Walls of Books at 3213 Georgia Ave NW, provides coffee on Saturdays.
Walls of Books has hosted a wide range of programs from book readings to fundraisers. Additionally, last spring, FreeMinds Book Club, an organization helping incarcerated youth and returning citizens through books, visited for a discussion on entrepreneurship. And school groups routinely conduct events, including trivia day for 3rd graders from Bruce-Monroe Elementary.
The weekly Creative Writing Group, author events and Story Time continue to grow.
And the store will be adding book clubs (“S Street Rising” is September’s read) and open mic nights.
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Walls of Books DC
3325 Georgia Ave NW
11:00 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday thru Friday
10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. on Saturday
Closed on Sunday.
- Walls of Books hosts a fundraiser for DC African American Legacy Foundation (June 23, 2016)
- Walls of Books grand opening and activities this weekend (February 1, 2016)
- Walls of Books opens this week, grand opening in February (January 10, 2016)
- Walls of Books is your next neighborhood bookstore (December 15, 2015)
- New bookstore coming to Park View in December (November 22, 2015)
James Cullum is a DC-based photojournalist who has covered the White House, Pentagon, Capitol, photographed presidents, celebrities, and interviewed rebel leaders in Africa.
Drew Schneider contributed to this article.