New Owner at The Fountain Bookstore

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After managing the Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia, for eight years, Kelly Justice is now its new owner. The plan that had been "batted around" for the past year and a half was finalized with former owners Louise "Boo" Smythe and Jim Smythe in the first week of January. Justice, who has been busy managing "major disasters and victories" since becoming an owner, considers herself "very lucky."

Although the Smythes plan on throwing a big party, Justice herself was content to let things continue as usual, hosting authors and running the bookstore, without a lot of fanfare. "Maybe we'll do something small and unofficial," she said, "and maybe I'll buy a new phone."

The Smythes, who will now be opening a restaurant and tending to their berry farm, offered favorable terms to Justice, to make the succession a possibility. "I thought they'd slow down and spend time with their grandchildren," said Justice. "But they're opening a restaurant. It's the only thing crazier than opening a bookstore."

The Smythes have historically helped people reach their goals, said Justice. "They consider it part of their mission to see that other people realize their dreams. I'm not the only one who's benefited from their grace and their vision in making the community a better place."

Justice became a bookseller in 1989 at the Printers Ink bookstore in Roanoke, Virginia. In 2000 she landed at the Fountain. At that time, the Smythes were struggling with creating a new identity for the bookstore. "They knew they needed someone with more experience," she said. "When they couldn't find that person, they picked me."

The Smythes gradually let Justice take the reins of the store, where she ramped up the sidelines offerings and events calendar. More recently she added an e-newsletter, in which she includes conversational descriptions of selected titles in the biweekly e-mail, which she also features on the store's website, and she highlights all the store's events in sidebars. To visually enhance the newsletter, she "went from using no pictures to lots of pictures." The wackier the better, she said, and noted that all photos click through to something.

Fountain opened in 1978 as a professional and technical bookstore and has been through several incarnations, though it spent most of its existence in its current location. The 1867 building has hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, and natural wood shelves. In fact, it so resembles the archetypal independent bookstore, that when author Kelly Corrigan (The Middle Place, Hyperion) dropped by, she looked around and said, "This is the reason people quit their jobs and open a bookstore. This is what they imagine."

Justice has some "fairly major plans" for changes, but plans on implementing them slowly because that's how southerners like their change, if they have to have change at all, said Justice.

But some things will remain exactly the same. For one thing, Justice described the store as "the opposite of a library." She explained, "We're not quiet here. Today we're playing French café music." And she noted that her initial vision of the store would remain a constant. "What I brought to the store was a philosophy of bookselling that is inclusive. That is my main goal as a bookseller, that this is a bookstore for everybody. It's a place of connection where no one will ever encounter any snobbery or judgment, and no one will feel left out." --Karen Schechner