City Paper is not for tourists
We appreciate the Washington City Paper’s interest in the whereabouts of Vertigo Books. We recently signed a lease and will be moving to 6346 Baltimore Ave. in College Park in mid-April, but we would like to clarify several points about your recent piece (Artifacts, “Shipping News,” 3/17). Vertigo Books’ attempt to create an inclusive, welcoming environment for people to meet and talk across racial, gender, class, generational, and political lines stemmed from the vision of our supportive group of multicultural and local investors, community advisers, co-owner Todd Stewart, and me. Quite simply, we believed that Washington was in need of such a place.
Reporter Jason Cherkis asserts that Vertigo Books successfully adopted the chains’ rhetoric by creating a space full of readings and events where all types of people would gather. His misapprehension of bookselling’s Washington history is understandable. The Evil Empire of Borders and Barnes & Noble has successfully marketed a concept of bigger is better, especially with coffee. Yet those chains have appropriated almost all their ideas from independent booksellers’ long tradition of community service, passionate commitment to good books, and knowledgeable staff. Luckily for independent booksellers, they cannot clone character and personality. In fact, the home-grown Crown Books was the only chain in the downtown market at the time Vertigo opened, in November 1991.
Vertigo Books is relocating to College Park out of necessity, not an intent to abandon or betray our customers. Commercial real estate in Washington is currently enjoying boom times. For us, this prosperity translates into spaces priced to attract national chains, not locally owned, community-oriented businesses. This factor, combined with the well-funded competition of chain stores and Internet booksellers, left us with few options. Although Washington’s independent bookselling community has survived the last 10 years of upheaval in the book industry relatively well compared with those in other cities, we have lost the venerable Sidney Kramer Books, Bick’s Books, Mystery Books (in Bethesda) and the Cheshire Cat. Vertigo’s move to Prince George’s County, where many of our customers live, will allow us to remain in business. We will have more space to serve in the same spirit of community engagement that we have in Dupont.
To those folks who consider yourselves politically progressive and committed to locally owned retail diversity, yet find yourselves shopping at chains and online with greater frequency: I urge you to support your local independent bookstore more regularly. Shop consciously. We live in your community, support your causes, pay taxes, find your books the way no search engine can, and bring you outstanding events. Yes, the Internet is essential and awfully easy, but if you value voices from outside the margin, you’ve got to support the folks who support them.