The Bookworm's Attic: An Urban Planner's Vision

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Sara Loftus, a former urban planner, opened the 1,000-square-foot Bookworm's Attic in Huntington, West Virginia, a year ago. Transitioning from urban planning to bookselling made sense, said Loftus. "As an urban planner, I've always been interested in neighborhoods and communities. I saw that if I opened a bookstore, it was another way I could make a real difference."

Loftus lives in the city of Huntington and, prior to opening The Bookworm's Attic, often drove through Gallagher Village. The area had been in decline, but kept its small-town charm. "It's a little old-fashioned neighborhood in the bigger city of Huntington. There are four corners and lots of neighborhood foot traffic. It looked like it still had a viable neighborhood business section."

When Loftus noticed a building under renovation in the village, she approached the owner, who was energized by the prospect of a bookstore in Gallagher. "We both wanted to help bring the village back," Loftus said. "West Virginia is not inundated with chains. A lot of them probably don't want to come here, so there's already a culture of neighborhoods of small shops. And the feedback we're getting is that people are really glad a bookstore came here and changed the nature of the village."

The bookstore, located in a 1940s-era brick building, stocks about 6,000 new and used titles. Loftus said that when she launched The Bookworm's Attic, she planned to specialize in fiction, mysteries, science fiction, and romance. "But because this is a neighborhood bookstore, we responded to our customers. People asked for historical biographies, so we started carrying that. And when I joined ABA, we started carrying Book Sense bestsellers, and people asked for more of that. And then they wanted the Book Sense Reading Group Picks for their book clubs, so we've become very eclectic."

Loftus, who had no prior bookselling experience, faced a steep learning curve when she opened The Bookworm's Attic. Now, a year later, after attending ABA's Third Annual Winter Institute, she has "lots of great ideas" for authorless events, displays, and signage. "I met a lot of publisher reps, and it was great to be around other booksellers and to listen to them," she added. "It was also good to meet other new booksellers who felt like they might be in over their heads. It helped reaffirm that this would work."

Loftus said she sometimes reminds herself to unplug the urban planning part of her brain. "I have to try to keep myself from bigger-scope thinking," she explained. "They're building an emergency call center across the street, and I keep thinking that we really need a municipal parking lot. But I remind myself I need to focus on the book business and not traffic flow!"

But Loftus hasn't entirely sworn off making some changes that go beyond her doors and into Gallagher Village. "I did go to the 'Local First' session at the Winter Institute," she said. "It started me thinking that if I can get my head above water at the bookstore, this little village would be perfect for an independent business alliance. I'm going to see if I can't get one started here." --Karen Schechner