Now, perhaps more than ever, it’s vital that we support and celebrate the local businesses that make DC such a special place to call home. One of those such businesses is Solid State Books, an independent bookstore and coffee bar that seeks to bring the finest books, events, and merchandise to our nation’s capital. For those of you not yet familiar with Solid State Books, there’s one thing you should know: it’s more than just a bookstore. It’s a nexus for a diverse city comprised of readers, writers, students, artists, activists, and politicos. It’s a community built for and by the vibrant neighborhood it calls home. It’s a dynamic intellectual and social hub, an experience worth turning the page for.
To give you an inside look into the happenings of this H Street mainstay, we sat down with co-owner and buyer Jake Cumsky-Whitlock for his take on community, connection, content, and so much more.
1. First things first…how long have you been a co-owner of Solid State Books?
2. What sets your store apart from others in the DC area?
DC area residents are spoiled for choice these days when it comes to independent bookstores. There are just so many good stores right now, and they’re all quite different. One thing that really sets us apart, I would say, is the overall look and vibe of our store — it’s modern, open, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that we have a bar on site, either!
3. Can you describe your connection to the H Street community?
Every successful independent bookstore is a unique reflection of its community, and ours is no different. Not only do we welcome a very diverse neighborhood and clientele, but we have four elementary schools within a few blocks of our store. Both of these factors have both afforded us the unique opportunity to reach so many burgeoning local readers, which has been a truly gratifying endeavor.
4. How do you source books to add to your collection and come up with new ideas for events?
We can’t give away all of our secrets! But seriously, sourcing books is what we call our “secret sauce”. It’s also what we strive to improve upon every day. In truth, much of our process is built on educated guesswork powered by years of experience. For us, doing our jobs the right way means offering a surprising, intriguing selection of books and events designed to appeal to a wide variety of customers.
5. How have you found new ways to maintain the store’s community-driven approach with Covid unfolding in the background?
This has been tough with the doors closed and the lack of events happening these days, but we are still holding Sidewalk Saturday sales outside the shop! We also continue to partner with local schools on their book fair initiatives. More than anything, the community support has really buoyed us through what has been a uniquely difficult time for all.
6. How can patrons of your store still give back to the Solid State Books community today?
We will take phone and email orders to ship directly to your home! Gift card purchases are also a great way to support the store since they act as micro-loans. Lastly, we have a few new t-shirt designs up on our website (which again will ship directly to you).
7. Favorite book you’ve read lately?
The Witch Elm by Tana French. My father’s a big fan of hers, and she has a dedicated and growing following, but this was the first time I’d read her myself. I was not disappointed!
8. Favorite thing about your community?
The passion. It’s a community that really cares about supporting its independent bookstore and understands the importance of doing so.
9. What piece of advice would you give to other local business owners — both now and in the future?
For existing business owners: Stay positive, and stay true to yourself. Try to remember what made you want to start your business in the first place and double down on that. Recognize, as well, that times like these require serious flexibility. Be willing to adapt to meet the changing needs and desires of your clientele.
For prospective business owners: See above, but you’d better be doubly sure that you know what you are getting into!
Interested in learning more? Check out solidstatebooksdc.com today.