Paul Ruppert is the latest restaurateur to try his hand at bookselling in Washington, D.C. In September he plans to open Upshur Books, an 800 sq. ft. general bookstore, next to his six-month old Petworth Citizen bar and restaurant in the Northwest section of the city along Upshur Street.
In addition to the bar and restaurant, Petworth Citizen includes a Reading Room that serves as a free lending library, where people can drop off and borrow books. Ruppert estimated that about 50 books get donated, and the same number get borrowed, each week.
By the fall, Ruppert will have three businesses along Upshur Street. In May he is opening a second restaurant on Upshur Street, Crane & Turtle, which will rely on the same chef at Petworth Citizen, Makoto Hamamura. What appeals to Ruppert about Petworth, which he calls a “great neighborhood,” is that the commercial corridor is located inside a residential area that has the dual benefits of long-time residents and newcomers with a sense of energy.
Nor are the Northwest Washington neighborhood’s literary connections lost on Ruppert. He chose the name of the area’s weekly community newspaper for his Petworth Citizen restaurant. Petworth is also the neighborhood where George Pelecanos’s fictional Detective Strange lives and works.
Ruppert envisions Upshur Books and the Reading Room working together with new books in the bookstore and used titles in the Reading Room—and bookstore staff overseeing both. But he has no plans to physically connect the bookstore and the restaurant. “You won’t be able to drink a beer in the bookstore,” he says. On the other hand, he would like to see people buy a book and bring it into the bar; he may even adjust the restaurant hours so that it opens earlier in the day to encourage patrons to read (and book-buy).
Bookstore staff will also manage Reading Room events, which currently range from a book signing by Mark Ewert for The Generosity Path (Skinner House Books) to a discussion on providing library services in the D.C. jails.
While the Reading Room is relatively small and holds up to 25 people, the bookstore, which will have moveable display tables, will be able to accommodate larger audiences of 50-60. Because of the small size of the bookstore, Ruppert says that he can’t have a “complete” general bookstore. Upshur will focus on three areas: literary fiction, poetry, and art books. The store will also have a small children’s section.
Even though Ruppert is investing in the bookstore, he has launched a Founders Club campaign, similar to community lending campaigns used by stores like Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. Those who invest $1,000, $500, or $250 in Upshur Books will get paid back in store credit over five years, and receive a discount on purchases during that time period. Smaller investors have the option of participating in the bookstore’s Indiegogo campaign in June. Ruppert has also applied for a city grant for new businesses in neighborhoods that need development.