Happy International Women’s Day! At Baby Ventures™, we celebrate the remarkable women in our indie literary orbit – women who are trailblazing their own path and lifting up other women along the way.
Today we’re thrilled to highlight avid book lover, early literacy supporter, and community builder Hannah Oliver Depp! Hannah is the owner and creative force behind Loyalty Bookstore – the beautifully revamped face of Upshur Street Books in DC’s Petworth neighborhood.
Hannah, we’re so excited to speak with you today! We can’t wait to hear all about your journey to opening Loyalty Bookstore, first as a pop-up in Silver Spring, MD, and now permanently in Petworth, DC. But first, we want to ask you: how did you come to love and live for books? Can you tell us a bit about Hannah as a young girl? What fostered your love of reading, what were your favorite children’s books, and how did your younger years inform today’s Hannah the indie bookstore owner extraordinaire?
My mother was a storyteller. My grandfather, a theologian. Everyone read in my house. We did not have much money to spare, but we had a library card and rummage sales and my mom can make a dollar turn into three paperbacks better than anyone I know. She read to us constantly – Narnia and Are You My Mother? were big family favorites. It is one of the reasons I love having storytime in the shop, and reading to kids myself; there is nothing like watching a kid get caught up in a story.
You’re clearly a fan of higher education, having yourself graduated from American University’s MA program here in DC. As you know, early literacy programs and quality education, particularly for young girls, are a critical bedrock for everything from good health to future personal and financial independence and success. How did your education empower your personal growth and professional aspirations? What would you say to young girls about cultivating a lifelong reading regimen?
My parents were ceaseless educators. Every shopping trip, camping trip, meal, etc was a chance to learn. There was no “time for learning”- it was seamlessly integrated into play, meal times, everything. They were not traditional parents by any sense, but they believed in our curiosity and giving us the tools to research for ourselves. Nothing was off the table. And while I wished at the time that I didn’t have to calculate the tip when we went out for my birthday dinner or be the one changing the tire on the car, it helped me see how what I read applied to every part of my life. I may not say much about cultivating a reading regime – instead I’d ask young girls what they were curious, scared, excited, or frustrated about. Reading is power, it’s a tool as well as a pleasure and I don’t like to separate those two things too strictly. Get them excited, the habit will form from there.
You clearly love not just reading books, but being around their physical presence (we’re right there with you). Can you tell us more about your experience working in indie bookstores, the power of a good paperback, and what led you to opening Loyalty Bookstore?
I worked part-time in my college bookstore and it was, by necessity, rather rigid and I always wanted to change things up. I worked weekends at a used bookstore in high school and talking to customers about what they wanted was fantastic – I enjoyed the hunt. I love teaching and researching, but watching wonderful academics and educators be disenfranchised in university structures that were forced to focus on profit was maddening when I was in graduate school.
When I joined the staff at Politics and Prose, all of my various passions sort of fit into the role of Bookseller. It wasn’t a hard career move. As I said I grew up surrounded by books and man, nothing is like that smell. I just moved and between opening the store and the pop-up I hadn’t had much time to make my house a home. I finally unpacked every last book a few days ago and can now sleep better. I think of books as essential to how I live my life. They take up space, so they should be beautiful or fun or broken treasures. The power of a good paperback is that you can fit more of them in your bag on the train or on an already crammed nightstand. But I am a fan of a book in any form, digital, IRL, audio, whatever. Just give me a story. Fostering a community of people who feel the same, and want to see themselves in those stories, is why I do what I do. Every day I want to find the best books for people so they feel at home when they read.
Your bookstore’s name – Loyalty – is both telling and unique. Can you share your thinking behind choosing this name for your store?
I think independent bookstores serve the community, but the community also aids them. It’s a two way street to keep a local business alive, so there is a loyalty and a trust there that is unique to the way other kinds of retail function. It’s also my life credo – friendship is expressed through loyalty for me. When it came time for something that would keep me going when things got hard, Loyalty as the store name reminds me why I keep working. Also, it’s my favorite Kendrick Lamar song and at the core of C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. If you combine those two things, you get a pretty good sense of who I am.
Why do you think indie bookstores bring their local communities together the way they do? What is the unique draw that they have, despite not always being able to compete with lower prices that mass bookselling platforms offer?
The popular term for what we bring is “third space,” meaning somewhere between work and home that is special, essential, to how you live your life. I find those spaces disappearing more and more as public funding gets tighter and rents get higher. Small business and nonprofits alike are fighting for space, and people are simultaneously realizing that their downtowns don’t feel like a place to live without indie bookstores. I am proud of Petworth and Silver Spring, and much of the DMV area, for fighting for itself and I think bookstores provide a unique space to help facilitate that fight. As booksellers we are thoughtful by nature, but we are tenacious as well. I mean, we decided to sell books for a living for crying out loud. We already believe in something, so bringing the community together is a natural extension of our love of reading.
At Baby Ventures™, we strongly believe in creating board books that celebrate diversity and expand a child’s worldview early on through reading. As Loyalty Bookstore’s new layout and book selection suggests, you also seem deeply committed to providing a literary haven for young children. What led to this focus on children’s lit and child-centric events?
The job of a bookstore is to both respond to the needs of its community and challenge its assumptions. Anyone who is in Petworth for a minute can see a ton of young families so it’s simply good business to make sure I have books for them! But I grew up in bookstores and libraries and those spaces become sacred in a kid’s head. When a kid walks in and says it is their store, or their story time pillow, I am creating the kind of safe space for them to explore – via the page – new worlds and solutions to problems they may not have the words for yet.
We had the pleasure of meeting you at the Loyalty Bookstore pop up in Silver Spring last year (please come back to MD!). As local indie authors, we were thrilled to be able to walk right in and introduce ourselves and our books to you. And we’re so proud to now have all of our titles available at Loyalty Bookstore! You took a chance on us – two fellow local women and indie authors (thank you!). Women such as yourself are increasingly leading the charge when it comes to running and owning indie bookstores, and bringing together their community as they do. What would you describe as the factor(s) behind this trend, and how do you think it will impact the literary community writ large?
A few years ago the indie bookselling community looked hard at itself and realized while there were a lot of bookstores that employed women, the women were not in positions of power across the board. Being readers, booksellers are reflective folk. Mentorship and creative ownership pathways were created and now when you walk into a conference or a store, you’re impacted by powerful, brilliant women of many backgrounds who own stores, manage them, or are working towards that goal. The industry is now doing the work to increase diversity of all kinds in its ownership. We have a long way to go, but I appreciate being a part of a business culture that is willing to be honest about what it lacks and work to meet that need.
If there is one thing you could say – one piece of advice – for young girls everywhere today, what would it be?
I would ask them what they like. I wish we asked young women for their opinion more, instead of telling them ours. The socratic method of education worked well for me, so questions are usually how I start an encounter already. But on top of that, I think we need women of all ages to know that their preferences, desires, thoughts, and passions are legitimate. Hopefully, I would listen.
Thank you so much for your time and insights, Hannah – you inspire us and we’re honored to be a part of Loyalty Bookstore in our nation’s capital! Happy International Women’s Day!
DC families and visitors alike: stop by Loyalty Bookstore to welcome Hannah and her team, and stay to enjoy her one of a kind community bookstore! Plus, join Baby Ventures™ co-authors Lisa Hall and Golzar Kheiltash for an interactive storytime with our ABCs of Washington, DC on March 23rd! We can’t wait to read along with Petworth families and their budding bookworms!
For more information, visit www.loyaltybookstores.com!