Richmond Book Shop: “A place of wanderlust”

Richmond Book Shop first opened in 1969, under the ownership of the grandparents of Vince Gilligan, creator of AMC’s drama series “Breaking Bad.” Kathryn Pritz, and her husband Robert, bought the shop in 1995 when it was about to go out of business.

“There was a huge sale and my husband kept bringing home boxes and boxes of stuff he’d bought,” Pritz said. “So one day I told him he should just buy the business.”

Richmond Book Shop is a used bookstore in Richmond located on 808 W. Broad St. that offers a large selection of items including old comics, vintage posters and back issues of magazines. The shop’s windows are lined with small trinkets, sculptures and posters. During its hours of operation, Monday through Friday, 2 p.m.-7p.m., customers have the option to browse through a selection of sale items located on a table outside of the shop.

“Before I even went in the store, I was excited to see the VHS collection on the sidewalk,” said Heather Duke, a Richmond resident and customer. “It’s very rare to just stumble upon VHS tapes.”

Upon walking in the store, customers are faced with even more rare findings, like Viking helmets and vintage McDonald’s happy meal toys.

Pritz says the store’s inventory comes from people who bring in antiques and from local book dealers who want to get rid of extra materials. The oldest items that Pritz has come in contact with are collections of old leather bound books from as late as the 1800s. Pritz’ face lit up as she described the texture of the books.

“You could feel that the type was set by hand and was set into fabric paper,” Pritz said.

Virginia Commonwealth University student Chelsea Manzo describes the store as a “place of wanderlust.”

“I like to stop by and browse every now and then. There’s just so much stuff in there … you find things you didn’t even know you wanted,” Manzo said.

Pritz finds joy in searching for items for the store. Her favorite items to collect are books about the Upanishad, the sacred texts of Hinduism. A small assembly of ancient Sanskrit literature surrounds Pritz’ checkout counter, readily available for her to browse through during her free time.

Though Richmond Book Shop located is on the VCU campus, Pritz says most of her customers are older men, rather than students.

“A lot of them are old customers who bought their first book or comic here and are happy to see that we’re still here.”

Local bookstores similar to Richmond Book Shop are Chop Suey Books and Black Swan Books, both located in Carytown. Rather than specializing in antique and vintage items, these bookstores contain newer items and are more high-end stores. Pritz cringes at the word “competitors” because she says they all know each other and are eager to refer customers to each other. However, Pritz says she thinks her younger customers continue to come back rather than going to her competitors because of the selection of cheap vintage items and the friendly nature of the staff.

“We try to keep the prices down and we even help people out if they don’t have the funds,” Pritz said.

Pritz loves working in the bookstore because she enjoys helping customers who come in looking for particular items.

“We get a lot of bizarre requests from art students. We once had a student come in who was looking for books to saw up for a project,” Pritz said. “I love the challenge of hunting through the store to help them find what they’re looking for.”

Pritz is aware that the abundance of items in her store may be overwhelming. In order to make her customers feel at ease, she plays calming music and encourages them to ask questions if they need help searching for anything.

Merrill Lynch has pressured Pritz to sell the space but she says she doesn’t plan on moving any time soon. The nearby establishments have come and gone; the laundry mat next door to the bookstore is out of business and the glass store that used to be on the other side of the bookstore has moved and the space is under construction. Pritz doesn’t have plans to expand the bookstore, which she says would be difficult due to the fact that VCU buys many of the nearby properties, but she does plan on at least staying long enough to see the block revitalized.

“I’m looking forward to more businesses opening up nearby and I would love for the city to come and plant trees. I really think it would attract more customers,” Pritz said.

“I really like coming [to Richmond Book Shop] but a lot of my friends don’t come here either because they aren’t interested in the type of stuff they sell or because they just download books, instead of buying the physical copies,” said Erika Straus, a VCU student and frequent customer.

Pritz notices that readers are starting to purchase digital books and are becoming more technology-oriented, but as long as there is a demand for books, she’s going to continue selling them.

“I just want people to remember how good it feels to hold a book,” Pritz said

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