Being surrounded by books is calming; it’s as if wise authors are whispering their secrets from the pages. And who doesn’t need a calming experience in our world? A perfect place to be feel that calm—and nostalgia—is Reston’s Used Book Shop, snuggly situated at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston.
The shop opened in January 1978 when two friends, inspired by a used bookstore in Denver, decided that what their young Reston needed was a used bookstore. They sold out their inventory on the first day, and have become a pillar of the Reston community, serving three generations of Restonians ever since.
Bud Burwell was teaching at Woodson High School, carefully cultivating a collection of books for his students in his “broom closet” space. “I liked to keep it juicy over there. The kids would take books. Sometimes they’d come back, sometimes they wouldn’t, I didn’t really care as long as it was stuff that would draw them in,” Bud said. While teaching, he worked part time at the bookshop in Reston for seven years. When he found out that the owners were ready to sell the shop so they could travel, he presented the idea of buying the shop to his wife, Susan, and on April Fool’s Day of 1999, they closed the deal. As they were already Reston residents, they could then fulfill Robert E. Simon’s (Reston’s founder) goal for his community: they could live, work, and play in Reston. They have now owned it longer than the original owners did.
The Burwells went on to buy the dry cleaner’s shop next door and connect the two spaces, doubling the bookshop’s size. The second room became not only more space for bookshelves, but also a reading space with a fireplace and chairs, and large collection of children’s books. On the wall is a rotating display placed there monthly by The League of Reston Artists through their Art in Public Places program. The added space has seen many events over the years, including monthly readings hosted by NOVA professor Nathan Leslie, countless book club gatherings, at least one marriage proposal, and even two weddings. For several years, a thespian staged readings of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” in the space, performing all the voices as the snow fell on the lake outside the small shop. “We’ve got these magical manifestations that are associated with books, and everyone’s got their own personal connection to the shop,” Bud explained. “We never get tired of hearing their stories.” The Burwells have been careful to keep things local and have been rewarded by a loving community. “We’ve employed 15-20 high school and college students over the years,” Susan said. “We get an average of six inquiries a month about jobs. ‘We grew up here,’ they say.” The shop never has to go looking for books; people are always calling. So many in fact, that they now buy books to resell by appointment only.
The shop is involved in all the goings-on at Lake Anne Plaza— made up of a group of privately owned businesses, a branch of the Reston Community Center, the Reston Museum, and Reston Art Gallery. Their weekly farmers markets draw large crowds on Saturdays, and the bookshop sees many patrons on those days. It’s Susan’s favorite day. “There are kids reading all over the floor—which we love.” The plaza also hosts festivals and their famous Christmas tradition of Santa arriving on boat for pictures and children’s crafts. It’s often chilly outside that day and people come into the shop to warm up by the fire.
To visit the shop is to go back in time. The stacks of books, familiar relaxing music, and lack of screens provide the calm that everyone needs. Nothing is computerized. Prices are handwritten on each book, and though they have a fairly good idea of which books they have in stock, you never really know until you get there what treasures you may find on the shelves. It’s always an adventure.
Reston has proven itself to include a robust community of readers, and thanks to the fact that the Burwells are retired and community-minded, they are able to keep the shop open. “We don’t do it for the money,” Susan laughed. “You pay your bills. You keep going. We’re kept alive by the community.” For such a business as the Reston’s Used Book Shop, there is no price tag on the value it brings to the local reading community, or the calming effect it has on its generations of patrons.
Reston’s Used Book Shop
1623 Washington Plaza North
Reston, VA 20190