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For The Love Of Books - And Of Reston

Reston's Used Book Shop thrives in the age of the e-reader by immersing itself in community.

Some of the best stories at  aren’t on the shelves.

There was the time a customer came in after combing several other stores on a hunt for the novel River God by Wilbur Smith. He asked owner Bud Burwell if he carried the book. Burwell spun on the spot, plucked the book from a shelf and handed it to him.

There was the time that a woman came in, snapping photos in every corner, to recreate her first date with her boyfriend - a date that had included time at the bookshop. She did it so she could send the photos to comfort him on his overseas deployment.

Or there was the time Burwell and his wife Susan, co-owner of the shop, set to painstakingly conduct inventory of every title, ignoring the advice of a former owner that there were 22,000 and they shouldn’t bother.

“And we came up with what?” Susan Burwell recalls.

 “22,011,” Bud Burwell chimes in, shaking his head.

The Burwells have owned the shop at 1623 Washington Plaza at Lake Anne Plaza since 1999, when Bud Burwell retired from teaching special education in the Fairfax County Public Schools. Several years before, Bud Burwell had also started working part-time at the bookstore, which he had wandered into one rainy Sunday. 

“This place was a little jewel. I loved being in here,” he said. So the part-time job led to an offer to buy the place when Restonians Sue Schram and Sue Wensell, who had founded it in 1978, decided it was time to retire.

“I said 'I was down here all the time anyway, so I’m going to do it,' ” Bud Burwell says.

Just don’t ask what “it” is. The Burwells could spend a couple of hours – if they could get away from their customers for that long – describing everything that goes on at the book shop. They do far more than buy, sell and trade books, which is part of the reason the shop continues to thrive even as the thirst for digital titles forces many other brick-and-mortar bookstores to close.

To wit:

  • On the third Monday of each month, the shop hosts a book club. Not so unusual, but the format is --  “People don’t all read the same book,” Susan Burwell says. “People just bring whatever they’re reading and share it.
  • The shop participates with Art in Public Places, showcasing Reston artists on its walls. A special corner of the shop is devoted to books by Reston authors.
  • It hosts a literature roundtable in conjunction with George Mason University’s chapter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. 
  • It’s the place to go in the summer if you want to rent a boat on Lake Anne. “We’re ticket central,” Susan Burwell says.
  • Bud Burwell books musicians who play Saturdays at the Reston Farmers Market.
  • Four times a year, on months that feature a fifth Sunday, the shop hosts a Bluegrass Jam. About 20 people bring instruments and play, while many more gather around.
  • Every day of the year, it’s a place to hang out, especially if you want to talk books or politics.  Folks who come in often even have a special name. They are FRUBS (Friends of  Reston's Used Book Shop.)

“It’s a community place," Susan Burwell says.

Kim Underwood June 02, 2011 at 01:59 PM
Great article Maria! I agree that this book store is a gem! The selection of kid's books is excellent and more than enough fun reads for adults. I always try to go there either before or after hitting the Saturday Farmer's market!
Rosanne Shalf June 02, 2011 at 02:23 PM
We need this kind of store in Ashland! Great article. Great shop.
Eve Thompson June 02, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Awesome shop, awesome owners!
Stacy June 02, 2011 at 03:38 PM
I have been going to this book store since I was a child in the early 80's. My friends and I would walk home from school (Lake Anne) and hang out in the bookstore (and neighboring Sweet Tooth) for hours. It always reminds me of my childhood when I revisit. It's nice to have a unique, intimate, and community-centric place like this still around, in the midst of big box stores all around us.
John Melnick II June 02, 2011 at 08:07 PM
I think the link to Reston Farmers Market is a different then the Lake Anne Farmers Market where Bud books bands, I believe that place (Reston Farmers Market) is closed?
Karen Goff June 02, 2011 at 09:21 PM
Thanks, John. Editing error. Fixing it now.
Kia June 02, 2011 at 10:47 PM
Ah - great article, brought back so many memories. I am a Frubie who spent an amazing year working there before moving back across the country to San Diego. The Book Shop, all of the owners past & present and Lake Anne made Reston my "official" home town even to this day, over 11 years later! If you are a Restonian and haven't hung out with Bud & Sooz there isn't any excuse - get down there & they'll find you the perfect book. I promise.
Nancy Wisecup June 03, 2011 at 04:12 AM
Beautiful article about a great bookstore and wonderful couple! Nancy Wisecup

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