In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Amber Taylor, owner Fonts Books & Gifts, new independent bookstore opening in McLean in October. In addition to books, Fonts will offer journaling supplies, greeting cards, puzzles, knitted gifts, and non-alcoholic spirits. Behind the store, there will be an outdoor reading nook that can fit eight to ten people.
Q. Tell me the story of Fonts Books & Gifts. What made you decide to open a bookstore?
Because I’ve always loved books and I’ve always loved bookstores, especially community bookstores and we were definitely missing that. I was very happy when I discovered One More Page Books in Arlington, right on the border of Falls Church but I wanted something closer — to give that to the McLean community. I was looking for somewhere not too far from my house, somewhere that needed a bookstore, and then with the revitalization at Chesterbrook it just felt like the right time. It’s pretty exciting to watch after living here for about ten years. I’ve been here at this house so nearby and it was kind of a sad space for a while. So I was like, Is it something that I can really do? Is it something that can be successful? Can I be successful at it?
Q. Obviously, you answered “Yes” to those questions. How did you get there?
I actually had my own communications consulting business for the last twelve years. So I’ve done my own books and run my own business in that way, but brick and mortar is definitely very different than that. I just started doing the research and there’s actually a couple who run a program that they help train people who want to own bookstores. So I went and spent a weekend with them at their store in Florida and went through their training and came back pretty excited. One of the tips that they offered was to really meet other local bookstore owners and talk with them and really get a feel for it. And so I think the day after I got back, I reached out to Eileen [McGervey] at One More Page Books and we had coffee and at the end of coffee, she was like: “If you really think you wanna do this, come and work for me and you can really see what it’s like.” That turned into Covid. It was not exactly what normal bookstore life is like, but I got to experience a crisis at a bookstore and figure our way through it. So it was amazing training. I just can’t thank her enough for that.
Q. When will you open?
We’re hoping mid-October. I was just texting this morning with my contractor trying to get that. Right now, there’s no floor even in the space. But we think we can move pretty quick. And so at least by Halloween, but hopefully by mid-October. We’ll let everybody know on social media and email. We wil have a grand opening of some sort. We will probably have a soft opening for a week or so, just make sure things are working. And then yes, we’ll definitely, even friends who don’t live here, but are in the area, in the Northern Virginia, D.C. area have been asking, “What’s the day for the party”?
Q. How big is the store?
Just over a thousand square feet. So that’s what I’ve got to contain my book buying — having done the trainings that I’ve done is helpful. I also did a 14-week course with a new professional bookseller school on just inventory management. So that was very helpful to help sort of go, Okay, I’ve got a thousand square feet, how many books can I fit in that space? What’s my budget for that? Our space actually has 12-foot ceilings, so I’m going to try to use some of the high space. I’m not going to add a ladder — the slide-y ladder — at least not yet. We’ll have cards, gifts, puzzles — a lot of things will definitely have sort of that bookish, readerish theme, but we’ll see what else we bring in. We’re going to have some fun [with some] plushies, little knitted things. So they’ll be gifts for babies and kids and things like that that. I’d like to see what else I can bring in from the local maker community too. I want to see if people can ask for, if they’ve been looking for something, I’m happy to look and see what we can get. We will offer free gift wrapping for all the books. We’re working on what we can do for the other gift items, but at least for the books we’ll have free gift wrapping.
Q. What’s been the most surprising thing in trying to get this off the ground to you??
To me, it’s just how unique the book industry is. The way that you work with publishers, I think, is just different than the way you work with other wholesalers. You know, I’m going to obviously carry gifts as well, and greeting cards and things like that, and there’s a certain way that that pretty much is standard and works. But, yeah, publishers, they each work differently. There’s yeah it’s a whole different little world and so I’m really glad that I knew that you know before I actually went into this so yeah that was surprising.
Amber Taylor with her husband Keith and daughter Miranda, who both plan to make themselves useful at Taylor’s new McLean book store, Fonts Books & Gifts.
Q. Do you remember the first book that you fell in love with?
Oh there’s actually a couple from when I was little. There was Harry the Dirty Dog. We will have that in the store. Yeah, Harry the Dirty Dog and Frog and Toad. That will be in the store as well. And then we have this little, I think it was called like Nutshell Library, there were these little tiny books. And I love those. And then I spent all of my babysitting money on Sweet Valley High books. I can’t remember not being a reader.
Q. Will you host book clubs?
I want to see what the community is interested in doing and reading, If anyone’s interested in organizing book clubs. I would certainly do one myself, but if people are interested in in different genres and things, then I would I would hope somebody would be able to coordinate that. I’m hopeful that that we’ll have that and we’ll have that community of readers to be able to talk about what they like and don’t like.
Q. What about bringing in and hosting authors at the store?
Definitely. My background is actually in communications and PR. And so, that was what Eileen actually hired me to do at One More Page, was to do the events. I spent three years with publishers and authors coordinating events, both small ones that we can just host in the store and then larger events that we hosted with community partners. So I hope to be able to do the same thing. Probably, getting off the ground, getting up and open and getting through the holiday season, I won’t have a lot of events until next year, but I am talking with an author on Thursday about a potential event before the end of the year.
Q. Will you have a kids’ section in the store?
I was actually working with my Penguin Random House representative yesterday who is just solely focused on kids books. So I’m hoping to be able to offer a little bit of everything. I have a 10 year old, so she’s already been hired to help recommend books to those younger and her age. And hope to have a good young adult section as well that I know a lot of adult readers like to read. We’ll see if there’s an appetite for kid author events. We’ll have to just kind of see if that’s what the community wants as well.
Q. Will you try to get involved in the schools in some respect?
I was actually just thinking the other day that I need to get the reading lists. I’ve had some people reach out and say they wanted to buy the books that their kids need to read from a local bookstore.
Q. What do you think will be unique about the McLean books?
I’m kind of going on what I know just of folks that I know in the community and what they’re reading and what they’re interested in and we’ll grow and change our inventory as needed to what really the local community is looking for. We’ll have all the bestsellers, but but I’m also hoping to to bring in some unique things. That’s part of the lovely thing about small bookstores is there’s always something to discover, which was part of my little bird and my logo. It’s sort of a discovery— getting out and looking at things. We can special order pretty much anything as long as it’s still in print.
Q. Are there any other unique things you will be doing or selling in the store?
One of the other things I’m going to be carrying at the store are non-alcoholic spirits, which is new to some people, but it’s like the tequila without the alcohol. I’m going to bring in a guy who’s just amazing in that field and has been crafting all kinds of drinks. We’re hoping to do an event with him before the end of the year too.
Q. Have you met any of your neighbors over there at Chesterbrook Shopping Center?
I actually am banking with TD Bank right next door. I have popped in and I’ve had my nails done a few times at my other neighbor, [Lotus Nails] And then I’ve met the owner of Le Village Marche. When I was at One More Page, I actually coordinated a Small Business Saturday event with about 16 other small independent stores and restaurants around the bookstore and we did a really fun, passport on Small Business Saturday, so you could go around to different stores and enter to win prizes and things. I really love that community of small businesses and I’m looking forward to being part of it in McLean too.
Q. Is there some place you like to go out in McLean to eat or shop?
We definitely hit up the Balducci’s quite often. Miranda has done some camps at the Bach to Rock. [Music School] We love that place. We eat at Mylo’s Grill and we’re loving Call Your Mother [Lil’ Deli McLean].
Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.
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