Although the familiar bright green building on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Northwest Expressway looks quaint on the surface, inside 100,000 copies of books line the shelves, creating space for several reading nooks which allow customers to delve into one of the bookstore’s 60,000 titles.
Full Circle Bookstore, in 50 Penn Place, celebrated its 50-year anniversary on June 5, having survived changes in ownership, the growing popularity of online retailers and e-books, and a pandemic. But store manager Dana Meister said a lot has changed since their reopening in 1980.
“There’s nobody walking down the hall (of 50 Penn Place). And it was the place, you know?” Meister said. “So that’s a major change. We don’t have any foot traffic to speak of.”
Across the street, Penn Square Mall shares 50 Penn Place’s struggles of maintaining a crowd after the pandemic. Many businesses inside 50 Penn Place have left, Meister said, but Full Circle — with its street entrance and sophisticated design, remains after decades. Meister credits the store’s success to the intimate and interactive experience the bookstore provides.
“It has to do with the people that work here and the people who come here,” Meister said. “You come here not to grab a book and leave. You come here to sit and talk.”
Meister said the store has many “regulars” and loyal customers because of its service.
“It’s the personal experience that you get here. We know our customers,” Meister said. “There’s one lady that comes in for lunch pretty much every single day.”
The employees are loyal, too, Meister said. She said they have ordered disability accessible chairs for an older customer, and they bring her flowers and a cake on her birthday.
“You don’t get that at Barnes and Noble,” she said.
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What started in 1972 as a small, eclectic bookstore called Bread and Roses has transformed into a grand, British-style storefront with an extensive book collection.
Jim Tolbert bought the bookstore in 1977 and shifted the design to fit his vision, which included “broadening the focus of the stock” and building a classic English-style bookstore. The tall, sliding ladders and traditional leather seats make standing in Full Circle feel like exploring a royal’s library.
“For a while I had business in London, and I visited all the bookstores I could find,” Tolbert said.
The bookstore has a café in the building called Java Joe’s to provide a “home away from home,” Meister said. The café serves breakfast and lunch, along with coffee, champagne and wine.
What sets Full Circle apart from other bookstores is its unique events. The store hosts author signings, live music and poetry readings. For children, the bookstore offers story time events in its kid’s books section.
“Anything you can think of, we do it,” Meister said.
A group of writers uses the space to conduct meetings about their work. Members of the group said they have discussed and critiqued each other’s pieces for years, and Full Circle meets their needs.
“We’re really grateful to Full Circle for hosting us. It’s such a wonderful environment for writers to get together, and it is perfect,” author Marcia Preston said.
With the vast space and various rooms, the bookstore also hosts private events. The store allowed one of their booksellers to have his wedding at Full Circle in October. One of the most memorable events for Meister was a memorial they had for a local poet.
“It was just a really touching time because this was one of her favorite places. Her friends got together to celebrate her and read her poetry and I remember that was very special,” she said.
Full Circle is at 1900 Northwest Expressway. For more information visit their website at fullcirclebooks.com.