RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Nestled in downtown Richmond, Krystle Dandridge can be found in her shop, sifting through her large collection of books.
“I am a book reader,” Dandridge explained. “That is who I am.”
Dandridge is the proud owner of The Book Bar, Richmond’s only Black-owned boutique bookstore and wine bar that focuses on Black and underrepresented authors.
She says she opened her shop because finding books with underrepresented authors has historically been hard to find.
“Finding books by people who look like me and stories about people who look like me has always been kind of difficult,” she explained. “It is starting to change. That trend is shifting a bit, but at the end of the day, unless it’s very, very, very popular and very mainstream or urban fiction, I just can’t find it.”
Dandridge opened her shop in February 2022 and sells everything from fantasy to non-fiction.
She is also a therapist and says it’s important to her to prioritize self-care in her shop. She provides local teas, coffee, wine, bookmarks and locally-made self-care merchandise.
“As much as I love it, it’s not really a self-care job,” she said. “It’s very much a stressor. So, I wanted to do something that for me represented self-care and reading is that. Reading save lives. I say it all the time. Books save lives, and so it’s self-care.”
She says she wants to make sure her shop is a safe space for customers.
“I am trying to provide a space where you don’t have to go to a specific section in an entire bookstore to find a story about a person like you,” she said.
It’s been a year since Dandridge opened her shop, and while she’s thankful for her supportive customers, she says the publishing industry has a long way to go when it comes to representation.
“Have some things changed? Yes, definitely,” she explained. “Things have changed, but there’s still a ways to go. You know, improvement in a situation doesn’t mean that it’s solved. It just means it’s improved, but it doesn’t mean that it’s done. We still need to keep doing work.”
The shop is located just blocks from Devil’s Half Acre, the site of Richmond’s largest slave-holding facility, Lumpkin’s Jail. Dandridge says having her shop so close is a full-circle moment.
“It’s, it’s kind of powerful, you know,” she said. “What’s even more powerful, is the author who did my grand opening was Sadeqa Johnson, who wrote ‘The Yellow Wife,’ which was about Mary Lumpkin, the wife of the jailer of Lumpkin’s Jail.”
Dandridge adds while she is currently the only owner of a store of its kind in Richmond, more stores like hers are popping up in the Central Virginia region.
The Book Bar is located at 1311 East Main Street in Richmond.