Sometimes as a reader, all you want to do is be able to walk into a bookstore and admire the presence of literature without being overwhelmed by the endless choices on the shelves. Luckily for readers, the small independent bookstore Downtown Books in Lexington, Virginia, is the perfect location for overcoming the daunting task of picking out your next read.
Upon entering Downtown Books, customers are met with a wide-open space, cleaned to perfection, and decorated according to the seasons. As of June, in the center of this independent bookstore was a small beach scene, complete with a beach umbrella, flip flops, and a beach ball. And of course, there was a spread of books that was hand selected for a perfect beach day read. Even the signs on the bookshelves and tables were written on black chalkboards to emphasize the feeling of a boardwalk by the sea.
Even back during football season, Downtown Books supported their local college team, the Virginia Military Institute, and decked out the store in VMI decorations, including jerseys and military uniforms. There is a popular saying that “books are an escape from the real world,” and Downtown Books emphasizes this idea by transforming itself into a getaway from local Lexington.
As the door to the shop closes and the outdoor bustle fades away, the store itself seems to relax and offer a clean, lavender and lemon scent. While the smell may not fit in with every decorative theme, it does make the store feel that much more calming. Without the sounds of passing cars and rustling trees, Downtown Books becomes a safe haven of peace and serenity where customers can browse for books without the chaos of the downtown. Even the people working the cash register are dressed neatly, but not in a snobbish way, and the love of books is present within them, as they can often be found reading while customers admire the store to their hearts’ content.
To aid in the soothing atmosphere, Downtown Books offers a small selection of books, avoiding an overwhelming onslaught of pages. Along one wall of the store, a series of floating shelves stand with today’s top reads, in various genres. Mystery, fiction, young adult, and children’s books all find a home on that shelf. As opposed to the store focusing on many books of one genre, it offers limited books of many genres, allowing customers to experiment with different types of books that they may have been hesitant to try before. While this process eliminates some more unique reads, it does offer people the opportunity to get into reading different genres with some of the highest-rated books available today.
Rather than customers moving past a genre because they were overwhelmed by choices, Downtown Books encourages this expansion of reading by showing customers the most popular books of each. The selection of books is also rotated according to the most recent releases, so even frequent customers are able to find new books to try. On the back wall, there is even a chalkboard filled to the brim with recommendations from the Downtown Literary Society. Not only does Downtown Books display its own preferences, but it also takes into account the opinions of the whole of downtown Lexington. The only downside is that all these popular books are full-priced. However, due to the size of the store, this makes sense.
Local Authors, Artists, and the Proceeds
Beyond the offer of the best books available from authors all over the world, Downtown Books also features a bookshelf of books written by authors and illustrators who live in Lexington, Virginia, currently. To make the offer even better, the books by local authors are 10% off, and all of the proceeds go to local charities and organizations, such as the “animal healthcare fund.” Many of the books on this shelf feature stories about animals and families. As to make the donation of the proceeds even more impactful, the proceeds are going to causes that Lexington finds important, as is evident in the selection of charities and the content of the books.
Beyond proceeds being offered to different organizations, there were various donation boxes around the store where people could drop off unwanted or unused items according to the sponsored charity. For example, in June, Downtown Books had donation boxes for the Rockbridge Animal Alliance. Nearing the back of the bookstore, there is also a small table that asks for donations for current world crises, such as the war in Ukraine.
Downtown Books truly emphasizes the importance of locality while not forgetting about the rest of the world beyond. Downtown Books even sits neatly beside the Globowl Café, allowing customers to explore the world of food culture next door while also settling down with local artists and authors within Downtown Books. One of the decorations is a corkboard map, asking customers to highlight where in the United States they are currently living, and the pins have been scattered all over the map.
Beside this shelf is a table displaying various knick-knacks also created by Lexington locals. From candles to teas to home decorations, Downtown Books makes it a priority to support local artists. This table is probably one of the bigger attractions of the store. It even gives an in-depth biography of each person whose work is featured in the store. For example, The Honest Goat, a family-run soap and essential oils company, sells many of its exciting and inventive products out of Downtown Books.
The store also made an effort to highlight certain artists at the front of the store, by doing a full biography on an artist while also featuring his or her work that was available for sale at the store. Once again, a Lexington bookstore turns its focus onto the town it’s located in and presents an opportunity for its local citizens to show off their expertise to others who live in the area or are just visiting.
Overall, Downtown Books is the perfect oasis from the hustle and bustle of downtown Lexington. From the soft smells and natural lighting, the store exemplifies the relaxation that comes with reading and escaping to another world. However, they also stay grounded within the current world by featuring local citizens as well as alerting customers to the needs of the world beyond.