Technically, the online feminist bookshop Womb House Books opened its bricks-and-mortar location in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, June 15. But in the weeks leading up to the grand opening, so many passersby had stopped into the store—its windows still taped over—and asked to buy books that owner Jessica Ferri had already made a number of sales by the time that date rolled around. When the day finally arrived, the scene was “nuts,” Ferri said, with a “steady stream” of customers, some of them longtime Womb House fans.

Womb House, founded in 2021, was already a thriving Etsy enterprise selling carefully curated vintage titles when Ferri, who lives in Berkeley and also works as a book critic, spotted a nearby storefront, which had been sitting empty for over a year, and began to imagine an IRL space for the store. By May, she had taken it over. The store sits next to an ice cream shop and a cafe in the Temescal Alley historic district, and many of the store’s visitors during its inaugural weekend drifted in from neighboring businesses.

“At one point, there were like 40 people in the shop,” Ferri recalled, with many of them expressing their admiration for Ferri’s curatorial tastes. She noticed particular excitement from customers about the store’s display table devoted to Toni Morrison, as well as its shelf devoted to Virginia Woolf. One customer eagerly pointed out all the titles throughout the store that she herself already owned and loved. Another, Ferri said, bought 15 books at once.

By the end of the weekend, Womb House had completely sold out of roughly 26 frontlist titles, including Pure Colour by Sheila Heti; All Fours by Miranda July; and An Encyclopedia of Gardening for Colored Children by Jamaica Kincaid and Kara Walker. As for used and backlist books, titles by Eve Babitz, Toni Morrison, Iris Murdoch, and Sylvia Plath proved especially popular, with many selling out. Ferri said that she is “working on restocking as soon as possible.”

The Womb House store also offers an array of new and vintage children’s books—many of them stories that Ferri herself read as a girl—displayed in “two little child-height bookshelves” with cushions laid out in front. “The kids came in and sit on the cushions and read,” Ferri said. “One girl sat and read Snow White for an hour.” By the weekend’s end, the store had “blown through three orders” of John Klassen’s picture book The Skull and sold out of Phoebe Wahl’s picture book Little Witch Hazel.

Ferri will continue to use Etsy to sell used and vintage books, which she calls the store’s “bread and butter,” while new books can be purchased on She may, at some point, integrate her online and in-person selections, but for the time being, “this seems to be working,” she said. “I like thinking about them as two different collections.”

Still, some of the vintage titles listed on Etsy are now also in the physical store, while the physical store also sells some vintage titles that are not listed on Etsy. She noted that “gigantic art books that are expensive to ship,” for instance, “are better suited for the brick and mortar.”

Also better suited for bricks-and-mortar: handselling. Indeed, Ferri’s favorite part about the new store is being able to chat with customers and recommend titles. “Even though I’ve been doing that [bookselling] for a while, to do it in person is something else,” she said. “Watching people walk out of the shop with an armful of Jamaica Kincaid when they walked in not even knowing her name—that’s what this bookstore is for.”

Another perk of the physical space is the ability to host authors and events. Womb House held its inaugural event, the book launch for Emily van Duyne’s Loving Sylvia Plath, on July 11, and Ferri plans to schedule robust programming in the near future, including events to “support local writers whose books came out during the pandemic and didn’t get to do any in-person events at all.”

In many ways, Ferri feels more empowered to promote the writers she loves as a bookseller than as a book critic, in that she can recommend more books to more people and, in some cases, place them directly into people’s hands. At the moment, she’s particularly keen to evangelize Sarah Manguso’s forthcoming novel Liars. She spent the grand opening “introducing authors to so many people” and answering their requests for recommendations. By Sunday morning, she had nearly lost her voice.

“I just feel so passionately about the writers that we focus on at Womb House—the vintage books but also the new books now,” she said. “It’s really great to be able to support the writers in that way.”

Womb House is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., though Ferri acknowledges that this schedule could change due to childcare demands once school starts. In the future, she hopes to hire staff, but for now, she said, “it’s just me.”

Running the shop solo is a monumental undertaking, but also, Ferri says, one that’s “very life-affirming.” The time spent manning the shop “passes very quickly,” she said, since she spends it doing what she loves most: “All I’ve ever wanted to do in my life is just talk about books and recommend books to people.”