Mia Richards, Contributing Writer
Richmond’s new addition, The Book Bar, highlights Black, Indigenous and author of color to uplift diverse voices.
Founder and owner Krystle Dandridge, who considers herself an avid reader, said she considered owning a bookstore and felt it was imperative she find a space that allowed her to do so.
“Essentially the mission is to center Black, Indigenous, people of color, authors and brands,” Dandridge said. “We wanted to allow it to have a space for a community to come together to see ourselves represented throughout the entire store.”
Dandridge decided she was ready to fulfill her dream of establishing a Black-owned bookstore after strong consideration throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Book Bar’s website.
Dandridge said in order to keep her doors open, she needed to offer more than just books to be sustainable — along with a wide selection of books, The Book Bar also sells apparel, a subscription box and wine.
“I knew I wanted a bookstore, but if we’re realistic, what it comes down to at the end of the day is books have a very low profit margin,” Dandridge said. “What goes best with reading a book and a glass of wine — that’s where the wine portion came in.”
Tamanna Sohal, a VCU interdisciplinary studies alumna and first-time visitor to The Book Bar, loved the aesthetic of the inside of the bookstore.
“It’s really warm and homey; I love the seating set up and the different displays of the books,” Sohal said. “It feels like a curated vibe.”
Sohal said she stopped by because of The Book Bar’s effort in celebrating Black voices.
“I’ve been wanting to have a bookstore for a few years, it’s always been in the back of my mind,” Dandridge said. “Last year I sat down and thought about it — there’s not really anything holding me back, so let me go ahead and do it now.”
Dandridge is also a therapist specializing in sexual trauma survivors. She said she encourages her patients to read to help them cope with their experiences.
She offers a quarterly subscription box to emphasize mental health’s importance which features items that focus on self-care, according to Dandridge.
“For me, books have always been important for self-care,” Dandridge said. “It’s where I focus my energy, so for me I wanted to make this important piece of my life the focus of my [The Book Bar] project.”
Dandridge said the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for self-care and paying attention to individual mental health needs, and she continues to focus on this aspect as a therapist.
“There’s something in the box that speaks to all of our five senses so that we can promote self-care,” Dandridge said. “What we can do to focus on ourselves while stuck in our houses would be my offering of the quarterly subscription box.”
Dandridge bases her selection off of its representation without specific advertisement towards one genre as the store offers a variety, according to Dandridge.
“What I wanted to do was kind of go through and pick books that I thought would be interesting,” Dandridge said. “I didn’t want to focus on any one particular genre — it’s likely got some type of representation in the store.”
Dandridge said it’s “crucial” to monitor what books do get selected to go on the shelves in order to represent the mission of the bookstore.
“I’m very particular about what’s on my shelf,” Dandridge said. “If it doesn’t match the theme it doesn’t match the mission — my store isn’t the store for that and that’s okay.”
Dandridge and her staff had to restock the shelves after the store’s grand opening on Feb. 5 with an immense turnout rate, according to Dandridge.
“I [The Book Bar] was virtual up until Saturday,” Dandridge said. “The community showed up in full force on Saturday, everyone was masked up.”
Kelly Justice, owner of the Fountain Bookstore Inc. located on the street south of The Book Bar, stated the proximity would help both of their businesses. Justice sent an email to Dandridge welcoming her to the “world of books” and offered to answer any questions Dandridge had, according to an email from Justice.
“We have different missions and many overlapping customers interested in the services, books and other items we provide,” Justice stated. “I feel the stores will support each other.”
Justice stated that, as a bookstore owner, she felt there was so much she did not know when she initially started and searching online never provided an answer.
“There are a lot of specific terminologies, methods and procedures and standards of professional etiquette in the book business that just aren’t anywhere you can look up,” Justice stated. “I think I’ve just been around to answer questions and give her some shortcuts, but let’s be straight here — Krystle knows exactly what she is doing.”
Dandridge said creating The Book Bar’s concept during the pandemic was easier since the store itself began online and her physical doors weren’t open. Now that the store is open, Dandridge’s success shows through continuous restocking of shelves and her offerings on various wines, according to The Book Bar’s Instagram.
Dandridge said she has high expectations for the store and its success for 2022.
“The plan moving forward is to grow little by little between book clubs, book club offerings, author events and wine tasting,” Dandridge said. “I want a space where everyone feels comfortable.”