Wildling Press chats with The Book Bar’s owner, Krystle Dandridge, about why indie bookstores matter and why Black and brown books, bookstores, and book communities are so important (and how she manages to run a great bookstore in Richmond, VA!).
Mary-Peyton Crook 00:25
Today we have with us a very special guest, Krystal Dandridge, owner of The Book Bar in Richmond, Virginia, which is a Black-owned, woman-owned bookstore that centers BIPOC authors and brands in an effort to uplift and support a culture that is often silenced. Welcome, Krystle, and thank you for being with us!
Krystle Dandridge 01:01
Thank you! Thanks for having me.
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:03
Of course! I know you have a very busy schedule; you had a big event yesterday, which is awesome. Krystle, what are your pronouns?
Krystle Dandridge 01:10
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:11
So just give us a little intro to The Book Bar and tell us what it's all about.
Krystle Dandridge 01:15
The Book Bar is a bookstore and wine shop. It's really a boutique bookstore. We center Black and brown voices, Black and brown creatives, Black and brown authors, Black and brown wines, art . . . everything in there is very much to promote and uplift Black and brown people. And the events that we do also reflect that. And so it's just kind of a space for community, a safe space for people just to come in and take a load off, you know? A little self care.
Christina Kann 01:43
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:46
You can definitely tell when you go into that space, that it's set up for relaxation, and for community to be together. There's lots of space for seating and for groups to sit together. It's really awesome.
Christina Kann 01:58
Yeah, take away the books, and it even could be like a wellness spa, you know what I mean?
Mary-Peyton Crook 02:04
Absolutely. And I love the story on your website of how The Book Bar came to be, how you came to open a bookshop. Can you tell us a little about about that?
Krystle Dandridge 02:14
Sure! It's always a funny question, because I never remember what I say to people. But it really comes down to, I mean, I've been a reader my entire life, and growing up, the difficult thing was finding books by people who look like me with stories about people who look like me and had similar experiences. I've walked into bookstores, and they would have an urban book section, which is fine, that's great, except Black people are not a monolith. So what are some other stories that are not urban fiction stories?
Krystle Dandridge 02:44
And that's if I found somebody who looked like me in the store. If they were in the store, it was like, in a section in the corner somewhere in the back with very few books, and I just, I got tired of that. And that was growing up. And so to, you know, now be in my 30s, to still walk into some bookstores, and that's the same exact experience . . . to me, it was problematic. And so I figured why not create a space? Especially given Richmond didn't at the time currently have one, and hadn't had one for some years--well over, I think, two decades going on three decades, Richmond had not had a Black-owned bookstore. And so for me, it was just kind of like, well, this is what I want. Let's create it.
Christina Kann 03:21
That's so wild and so important, because there's so many wonderful Black writers and readers here, you know? It's such an important part of the readership community here.
Krystle Dandridge 03:32
Mary-Peyton Crook 03:32
Absolutely. Yeah, it's wild to me because Richmond . . . you know, I love living in Richmond, I've lived here for a long time, but I feel like it thinks of itself as a cool place to be, as really a more modern place to be, but it took until 2022 to get a Black-owned bookstore in Richmond, [a place] that considers itself a really literary town.
Krystle Dandridge 03:52
Richmond is full of bookstores. Which is a great thing! Richmond is full of independent bookstores, but you just can't find Black or brown bookstores. And I just, I never understood why.
Mary-Peyton Crook 04:03
And you talked a little about it, but maybe flesh out a little bit about why it's important that that kind of space is in our community. Why is it important to the community of Richmond or to any community to have that Black-owned, woman-owned, but specifically Black-owned bookstore?
Krystle Dandridge 04:17
Representation. Representation matters. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be able to see themselves in any role there is, any role possible, and when you have so many forces kind of working against you, like the media, whatever you have, everything that you're seeing is very much mainstream, very much white. It's like, "All right, so where do I fit in?"
Krystle Dandridge 04:39
And so to have representation right in your own backyard is extremely important because it's, you know, yes, times are changing, yes, things are reflected on the TV, but again, I'm in my thirties. That's not how this looked when I was growing up. And so while things are shifting, it's still important because there's going to be a little girl or a little boy who wants to own a bookstore or who loves reading books or who wants to see stories about people like them.
Krystle Dandridge 05:04
And so walking into a space where you know it's no question: there is acceptance (because we know that that's not everywhere you go), walking into a space where you know, without a doubt, you're going to be accepted, you're going to find people who look like you, and you're going to have something that you can aspire to--that's important. Representation just . . . it matters.
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:21
Absolutely. That importance has been so clear through the outpouring of support and community engagement that you've had for your year that you've been open. You just celebrated your first anniversary on February 5! Congratulations!
Krystle Dandridge 05:35
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:35
Christina Kann 05:36
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:37
And I know it's just gonna blossom even more as you're running it. What does it mean to you to know that you've successfully provided that space for the community for a whole year now?
Krystle Dandridge 05:47
You know, I don't know how to answer that, because I think I'm kind of still processing it. Like, I still am trying to process everything, the fact that I've been around for a year, the fact that it's not the easiest thing to do. And it's interesting, because everyone's like, "Oh, you just, you know, I'd love to own a bookstore, you just kind of read books all day." And I'm like, "I wish! I wish that's all I did!" You guys walk in, and you might see me reading a book; however, that's probably in the midst of everything else I have going on, because I still love reading books, but I also have to read books! So sometimes you walk in to see me reading a book, and I'm actually working, it's not just me lounging around reading.
Krystle Dandridge 06:23
So trying to process everything and still stay grounded, still keep the mission forefront, because it's not always the easiest thing to do. It's hard to really understand what it truly means, you know, that it's been a year. And so for me, I'm like, a year's not that long. But on the flip side, I'm also like, but it's been a year, it's been a year.
Christina Kann 06:43
So long, yeah.
Mary-Peyton Crook 06:45
Especially for a business!
Christina Kann 06:47
Especially for a business with a storefront. At Wildling, we don't have a location. So it's like, all you have to do is have an email account, you know?
Krystle Dandridge 06:55
The storefront, that's the other piece of it. The storefront has been around for a year, but the business opened Juneteenth of 2021 virtually. So, the storefront has been a year, the business has been around a little bit longer, not much, but a little bit longer. And like you said, that storefront makes the difference, because you don't pay rent on an email! Trust me, I remember those first six months or seven months, and I was like, "Okay, I got this," and then that storefront hit, and I was like, "Okay, what's this?"
Mary-Peyton Crook 07:25
Yeah, Wildling, you know, being remote, we still have plenty to fill our days and plenty of work to do all the time. Tell us a little bit about what a day in the life of a bookstore owner is like, because I know you're juggling a million things all the time. Do you get any breaks for yourself? Do you make sure to take breaks for yourself? And what's your sort of day-to-day look like?
Krystle Dandridge 07:47
I do my best to take breaks. Just because self care is important to me. So I do my best to take breaks. However, I am still a therapist. I'm still a licensed therapist, and so I am still doing therapy on the days the store's closed.
Christina Kann 07:58
Oh my gosh.
Krystle Dandridge 07:58
Mary-Peyton Crook 07:58
Krystle Dandridge 07:59
Yes, so I try to schedule--and I do have someone who works very part time for me, just to kind of give myself a day off. And that took a long time to get to, because for the longest . . . I went almost a year without a day off.
Christina Kann 08:11
Oh my god.
Krystle Dandridge 08:11
And so there's that. Chaos is probably how I would describe my days. There are some days where it's not, but for the most part, it's chaos, because I've been placing orders, following up on orders, trying to figure out what the next order is going to be, just trying to plan an event, getting events together that are already planned and making sure I have everything in order. . . . Or like if we speak of like yesterday's event, trying to figure out how I'm going to seat everybody, because those tickets sold out and people are still showing up! And you know, now I gotta figure out what to do.
Christina Kann 08:43
What a good problem!
Krystle Dandridge 08:43
Right! And it's funny, because everyone's like, "That's a great problem to have!" And I'm like, "Yes, after the fact!" In the moment, it's not a great problem to have.
Christina Kann 08:43
Krystle Dandridge 08:43
In the moment, I'm like, "I don't want to turn you away, but I don't know where you're gonna sit, and I don't want you to have to stand for two hours," which, you know, doesn't seem like a long time. But I'm like, you know, these people coming in, we're not talking about teenagers who don't have thirty-plus-year-old knees and backs.
Mary-Peyton Crook 08:56
That's so important.
Krystle Dandridge 08:58
We're talking about adults who can't stand that long. So you know, great problem to have, but like, this is where the day-to-day is like, "Okay, do I have all the inventory I need? Oh, shipping is delayed? Okay, how long is shipping delayed? Okay, so I won't have any books for the holidays, I have none, like none of my books are coming, none of the hundreds of books I ordered. Nothing's showing up? Oh, okay. No, that's, that's fine. I can be a bookstore without books. Why not? Who needs books in a bookstore?"
Mary-Peyton Crook 09:35
You have to really learn to pivot.
Krystle Dandridge 09:37
You adapt. But I'll also say the community has been super supportive. Because I'm very transparent. I will tell you, "Hey, I ordered books; I don't know where my books are. I can order some more for you." And they're like, "Oh, it's okay, we'll wait! Let's go ahead and place an order. It's okay." And you know, that to me is the support that I need and the support that is helpful because that's what kind of keeps me going. I feel bad when I don't have books, but I'm like, "I promise I ordered them. I just don't know where they are!"
Krystle Dandridge 10:06
I just had a shipment of over a hundred books come in on Friday, and I placed that order like three, three and a half weeks ago. And I placed it knowing I had this event. I was like, "Let's over-order, let's get some books." And I'm like, "Okay, well, you know, I placed the order. I don't know where my books are, but I placed the order, and I'm about to have over 100 people in the store, and I don't have a book for them! I don't have anything!" It showed up, thankfully, but . . .
Christina Kann 10:33
We can definitely relate to that, trying to get authors their books in time for their events as well. There's so many elements of buying books that are just out of your hands.
Mary-Peyton Crook 10:42
Krystle Dandridge 10:43
Most of it is out of our hands.
Mary-Peyton Crook 10:44
You try to really prepare well in advance, but it still can show up late even then. It's crazy.
Krystle Dandridge 10:50
It's, you know, it's part of the business. But again, it's that year, that year is learning. I learned over that year a lot.
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:00
Yeah, and it's great that you still have that support. I remember, on your grand opening day, obviously, you know, it's grand opening day, day one of the first year, so anything could happen. And I remember you coming out and right before we were able to go in you were talking about the fact that you didn't have the books that you had ordered yet, you were still waiting on so many books. And I walked in, and I know that it's much more full now, but it still was so beautifully set up and the books looked great. You had them facing out, which I love because that lets you see the cool covers. And people were still just flooding in and having the greatest time.
Krystle Dandridge 11:37
It was great.
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:38
You know, I think that's because you've created that sense of community and the sense of space over just a place to buy books. Ordering that book is important, but I don't think you'll ever run out of people that still support you and love that space.
Krystle Dandridge 11:52
That's the great part about it. The grand opening was a shocker for me. I don't know what I expected to happen, but when I walked out and saw the number of people . . . in my mind, I was like, "Oh, it'll probably be like twenty, maybe fifty people, it won't be a whole lot. Very naive of me, because I walked out and like . . . My family was there. If you came to the grand opening, you saw my family because they were everywhere helping everyone--
Mary-Peyton Crook 12:15
Krystle Dandridge 12:15
--behind the register, mostly, but they were definitely everywhere, them and my friends. And prior to the grand opening, as we were standing inside, I was like, "No, I'll cut the ribbon. A few people are coming, but you guys can probably just go back to my house and just, you know, relax. I won't need any help." And then we opened the doors, and everyone came in, and I was like, "So y'all can't leave. You have to stay, I just need all hands on deck. Don't ask me what I need you to do, because at this point, I don't know, I wasn't expecting everybody to be here, so thanks for staying. Sorry you're hungry, but we're here now. We're in this together, we're gonna make it through, and I appreciate the patience."
Krystle Dandridge 12:16
That line . . . if you were there, that line was wrapped around the store. And there were just all these people, and the store was packed. I'm in panic mode because I was like, "Oh, the city said my capacity is this, and we're like, way over that. Should I put people out? Like what do I do?" Again, I was brand new to retail. I was like, "What do I do? Do I not let them in? It's cold outside. It's February. It's freezing outside. Do I take a chance? Because I don't want anyone catching pneumonia trying to get into a bookstore! That's ridiculous.
Mary-Peyton Crook 13:32
Maybe those rules are a little bit soft for a grand opening.
Krystle Dandridge 13:35
Mary-Peyton Crook 13:36
It was great. It was so much fun.
Mary-Peyton Crook 13:37
What's your favorite part of running a bookstore?
Krystle Dandridge 13:40
Christina Kann 13:41
Yeah. That's a good answer.
Krystle Dandridge 13:44
Getting the books early, because if you're a book addict like me, then your TBR is ridiculous, but you still want the next book. I think it's a tie. I'll say there's a tie between the books and the authors. I have posted about it. I absolutely love meeting authors. Authors are my rockstars. You guys can have all the music artists you want. I love them too, but there is nothing like meeting authors, especially because they're down to earth! They're down-to-earth rockstars, or at least the authors that I've met. They are down-to-earth rock stars! They're like "Yeah, sure, let's chat!" And I'm like, "Really? You wanna talk to me?" So I think that's amazing. And the books! I have arcs sitting right in front of me right now. I get so many arcs (way too many sometimes, but I'm okay with that. I give a lot away, actually.) But getting those arcs, being front and center trying to see, like, what's coming out? Can I read it? When I read it, I'm like, "Oh, let me make a video about it. Let me post on social media but try not to spoil it. Let's talk about this book and not tell you all why it's so amazing when I just want to be like, "Oo, and then they did this and then they did that."
Mary-Peyton Crook 14:54
That's so hard, because the ending can really make or break (obviously) a book, and and it would be so hard if you're genuinely giving your reviews to not include that part of it.
Mary-Peyton Crook 15:06
And that brings me to talk about your social media presence @rvabookbar on Instagram and Tiktok. Those are my favorite places to find you, because your presence on social media on those channels is so authentic. I was thinking about it, and I think it's obviously because so many of the posts are just you talking to your followers, talking to this community of readers, and giving genuine book reviews. And you seem to post a lot, which I can't imagine with your schedule.
Mary-Peyton Crook 15:35
What kind of advice would you give to--I know you're in a particular position as a bookseller--but what advice would you give to someone looking to create sort of an authentic, compelling Bookstagram, BookTok, whatever channel they want to use?
Krystle Dandridge 15:49
Ignore what's already out there. And I say that because when I first opened my IG account, I was going with, you know . . . Well, when you're on Bookstagram, all you see is the mainstream, white faces, that is what you see. You have to literally search for people who look like me. What you see are aesthetic pics, that's what you see. And there is nothing wrong with the aesthetic pic; I actually think they're pretty, I just don't get anything from them, personally. But when I started, that's what I was doing. I was like, "Okay, well, people want to see aesthetics, because of course, these people's aesthetics got thousands and thousands of likes. So that's what people want." But then I realized I wasn't using my voice.
Christina Kann 16:27
Krystle Dandridge 16:28
And then again, going back to the [book] reviews, you would see the aesthetic, and then you would see the synopsis of the book. I don't like that, because I can read the back of the book myself. So because I can read the back of the book myself, you're not really helping me want to buy the book, because you just told me what the book was telling me anyway. How was that helpful? And what I learned was I was actually getting better traction when it was my voice versus the voice that matched what you saw on Bookstagram, which was, "Here's a picture of a book. Here's what the back of the book says."
Christina Kann 17:01
Krystle Dandridge 17:01
Cool. But I see that on the hundreds of profiles I see every day. So that's not helping me, versus people who are like, "Okay, but why should I buy this book?" which is what people want to know. They're looking for book recommendations.
Krystle Dandridge 17:12
There are a lot of people that are cover buyers; I'm a cover buyer. So yes, the pretty book catches my eye because I'm like, "Ooh, what's that?"
Mary-Peyton Crook 17:19
For sure, for sure.
Krystle Dandridge 17:20
But now what? Why should I buy it? So the advice that I have is for BookTok and Bookstagram, because BookTok is very much videos, Bookstagram is both pictures and reels. But I say use your voice. Like for me, my personality comes through in my videos; it's kind of like talking to me. I love books, and I love talking books. So I'm just kind of like, "Hey!" I'm animated. I like to be very animated. And so I'm like, you know, "What would make somebody really understand why you should get this book?"
Krystle Dandridge 17:54
And I'm recommending what I like, I'm not just kind of like, "I'm a bookseller, here's a book that's in my shop and I have to sell it." No. Some books are just not for me. And that's okay. So when people come into the shop, and they're like, "Well, what about this book?" I'm like, "Well, if you like XYZ, then you'll like it. It's just not my cup of tea, because I'm not an XYZ reader." But on my Bookstagram or my BookTok, I'm like, "Oh, did y'all read this? Let me tell you why you should read this. Because you're not going to regret it!" I like the books that I'm recommending. So I'm not just going to be like, "Oh, I have to sell this. Let me just shove this down your throat and hope that you believe me and come by. No, I thought this was amazing."
Mary-Peyton Crook 18:32
Yeah, I love watching your book recommendations, because you are so passionate about them. And for lack of a better term, you give more of the vibe of the book; you talk about what it's really like versus just, "Okay, this is a mystery. This is fantasy." You really give us the elements of the book that are a reason to read that book over others. Which is what what we're looking for as book readers.
Mary-Peyton Crook 18:56
And that's such a strong case for why it's so important to buy from local bookstores over things like Amazon over even looking on Instagram or Booktok. Because the bookseller should be a book reader like you are. And that's where you're really going to have a conversation with someone about what kind of books are coming up, what book recommendations they can make for you, and it just makes the process so much better than, say, just scanning on Amazon for a book. That's why bookstores are so important.
Krystle Dandridge 19:29
Bookstores will forever be important. Bookstores . . . first of all, they're in your community. So we're talking about tax dollars, all of that, that goes back into your community. So why would you not want to support a bookstore that's in your community? I understand the ease of shopping online and just having it delivered to you in a day or two. I get that. But there are so many reasons to choose an independent bookstore over choosing shopping online and supporting something that isn't in your community. It's not in your community, it's not benefiting your community in any way, shape, or form. And then the interesting thing is people wonder when they're like, "Oh, well, bookstores are obsolete" or "They don't stick around, they don't stick around," because instead of walking in and talking to a person, you decided to click on it.
Krystle Dandridge 20:13
And I'm not against online shopping, but there are also ways to shop online to purchase books that are not through Amazon so you can still support what's in your community: Bookshop.org! Independent bookstores through Bookshop.org. You can go through Bookshop.org, choose the bookstore you want to select (The Book Bar) and your purchase benefits that store. It still supports the store in your community, and you can get it shipped directly to you, easy.
Mary-Peyton Crook 20:40
That is so nice. We love Bookshop.org. I literally just used it the other day, and my purchase . . . I bought one book, one paperback book, and it said it gave $5.99 to a local bookstore, which is crazy considering that the book was like $18, you know, so that's a huge amount for online, which is awesome.
Krystle Dandridge 20:59
It's great. We get a huge portion of that percentage. And then you also have Libro.fm for those who are like, "I only do audiobooks." Libro.fm, same concept.
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:09
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:11
To sort of wrap up, what are ways that people can support RVA Book Bar if they don't live nearby?
Krystle Dandridge 21:18
Online! You can always support me online, RVABookBar.com, www.rvabookbar.com. Events are posted there, and there is a link to my Bookshop page. You go under "Shop," it'll say "Shop Books," and you can search all of the books you want. You can always come inside! You can't lose with that either. But there are so many ways you can follow me, on IG, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube @rvabookbar. Or come down to the store: 1311 East Main Street in Richmond, Virginia.
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:47
Well, thank you so much, Krystle, for being with us today, for taking time out of your busy schedule. I love The Book Bar, we all do at Wildling, and however we can support you, we are here to do that.
Krystle Dandridge 22:00
I appreciate that.
transcribed and edited by Mary-Peyton Crook
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