When Avenue Books, long a favorite on College Avenue in Elmwood, fell victim to the post-9/11 economic crunch, neighbors mourned the loss.
Marion Bundy, a writer and editor, and Ann Leyhe, who writes regularly for gardening publications, lent their sympathetic ears to the laments, and soon found they were getting more than mere grousing.
“We were approached by people who urged us to open a bookstore,” said Leyhe.
And so, like Orlando, the title character in Virginia Woolf’s novels, one of Berkeley’s favorite bookstores is back in a different form—though while Orlando switched gender, the new bookstore store will emerge with a new name, new content and a different focus.
Thus, sometime in late September, Avenue Books will be reborn as Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary and Garden Arts, renamed for the title character in another Woolf opus.
“We’ve both lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, I was looking for a place to sell gardening books and supplies, so we decided to make the plunge,” she said.
“About a third of the space will be devoted to books on gardening, regional gardening and garden design, along with reference books and plants in artistic containers,” Leyhe said.
But the majority of the store’s 2,000 square feet will be devoted to fiction and quality literature, as the new name would suggest, along with top notch mysteries, a selection of non-fiction (current affairs, history, politics, biographies and memories), travel writing, culinary and oenophile works, texts on design and the home, children’s books and a selection of local authors.
“Marion and I met in Boston in 1975 at a summer session of the Publishing Procedures Course at Radcliffe, ” said Leyhe. “Neither of us has ever done any retail, but one of our professors from that session now has a consulting business helping people to open bookstores.
“Marion called him and said, ‘Please convince me that I shouldn’t do it.’ But he did a feasibility study of our neighborhood and said it was a good place to open a bookstore.”
The neighborhood boasts a high percentage of very literate readers, including many families with UC connections.
“We’ll be offering a high level of service. We’ll order anything for our customers, and we’re offering free delivery in the Elmwood neighborhood.”
The new owners are currently completing the process of obtaining all the necessary permits and approvals, and they’ve negotiated the complex quota system imposed by the neighborhood commercial district.
“There was already an open slot for books,” Leyhe said, “and there’s no quotas selling plants.”
The next stage, just beginning, is the installation of the interior improvements needed to make the store work.
“We’re already placing orders with book companies, and we’re going to put up a web site. Customers won’t be able to order and pay for books online, at least for now, but we’ll have e-mail and we’ll be posting the events we’ll be having at the store,” Leyhe said.
“We’ll have a lot of events in the evenings. There’ll be readings by local authors and we’ll have seasonally relating gardening events. When it’s time for bulb-planting, we may have a demonstration. But all the events will be centered around books.”
A graduate of Princeton and Mills College, Bundy is married to Boalt Hall Law Professor Steve Bundy. They and their two children live in Elmwood.
Layhe graduated from Scripps College. She and spouse, builder Andy Pauley, have raised three children in the neighborhood.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Leyhe said. “Neither of us has ever done any retail.”
Fortunately, the pair have recruited a pro to assist them—Elise White, a familiar face to customers of the old Avenue Books, where she worked for 15 years.
“She was an important part of Avenue Books then, and she’ll be of great help to Mrs. Dalloway’s,” Leyhe said.