It has been owner Sandy Huff’s dream to open her own bookstore for years. Huff and her family have been brainstorming ideas for the name, what books they would carry, and where the bookstore would be with no real plans to take action.
“We were just dreaming big,” Huff said. “Then in January I just happened to be in the neighborhood and saw the ‘for sale’ sign in this location and felt like, if a bookstore was going to make it, this location is where it possibly could.”
Huff jumped at the opportunity and decided to make her dream come true.
“[Setting up] was a pretty fast and furious pace,” Huff said. “We saw the space, and we knew we wanted to use the space. The book community is incredibly supportive and cooperative.”
The former clothing store, Empire South, gave a massive space to fill with books from floor to ceiling.
“The building itself has been here for a while, so it’s got the exposed brick walls and the old hardwood floors and it just feels like a bookstore,” Huff said. “We are trying to go for a cute and homey feeling with lots of mix matched rugs, comfy chairs, lamps, and art on the walls so you can sit down and pick up a book.”
Customers pick up on the positive atmosphere. Midtown High School senior Meg McGahan described the environment as “welcoming and happy.”
“There were lots of kids there of all different ages,” McGahan said. “I thought it was very neighborhoody and I had a great experience. There’s just a lot of positive energy in there. The employees were super nice; they commented on each book that I was purchasing and told me how they had loved reading them.”
The store has an entire section dedicated to children’s books, adding to the inclusivity of the store.
“We have a really cute kids section with a lot of good kids books,” employee Dana Richie said. “To see the little kids coming in and giving them recommendations is something that is really cool. Building that connection with kids in the neighborhood I think is something else that makes our store special.”
The employees at Virginia Highland Books make the community their top priority.
“All the employees, a lot of us are high school and college students, but it’s just a really good dynamic between all of us,” Richie said. “Everyone is so welcoming to each other and to our customers, so I think that helps feed into the friendly neighborhood vibe.”
The openness of the store adds to the sense of community and comfort.
“I think this bookstore is definitely more unique compared to other bookstores because it has so much space; you walk in and it’s super open, which I think is really nice because it feels more communal that way,” McGahan said. “It’s not just closed in.”
The independent bookstore strives to stand out from its competitors.
“In order to compete with places like Barnes and Noble, we can give what they can’t really give, which is charm,” Richie said. “It feels more like a small town shop and it definitely has a lot of really cool books that you maybe wouldn’t find elsewhere. We are very catered to the community because we know that’s what makes our bookstore special, and that’s what draws people in.”
Since the opening, the store has gotten mass amounts of attention from the neighborhood. Huff described the turnout of people as “way more than I expected.”
“I think that because this is within walking distance for so many people, that makes it super unique,” McGahan said. “It’s the perfect location and it’s the ideal spot for a bookstore because you’ve got lots of coffee shops and food everywhere.”
Located on North Highland Avenue, the bookstore’s location is another strong feature that pulls customers to Virginia Highlands.
“With Virginia Highlands, we are definitely having some synergy with Perc, the coffee shop, and the new ice cream place that’s opening up,” Richie said. “I think that this is going to be a new intellectual nook for people to come in and hang with friends or have a date. I think we are really feeding off other businesses and having that coalition is really nice.”
Huff has always loved reading, and sharing her passion with others has added to the positive atmosphere.
“I just really want to share books with people because I’m a huge reader,” Huff said. “I want to encourage people to read and encourage the love of reading in children. I think this is a great place to have people come in and chat about books and what they’re reading.”
In the future, Huff hopes to start a book club at the store to share and spread the love of reading.
“Once our website gets up, we really want to have an opportunity for not just our staff to give lots of recommendations, but all the neighbors and have young adults give recommendations and reviews of books,” Huff said.
VOX Media Cafe reporter Lindsay Ruhl, 16, is a senior at Midtown High School and has been involved in journalism since her freshman year. She loves writing lifestyle and news articles and producing her monthly podcast, The ATLien Podcast. She’s the Social Media Editor for her school’s newspaper, The Southerner, and loves making fun Instagram story posts. Outside of journalism, she loves listening to Taylor Swift, eating sushi, and hanging out with her friends.