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The Halls of Kelly

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You might be surprised that Kelly Justice, longtime manager of the Fountain Bookstore in Shockoe Slip, majored in animal husbandry (with a specialty in beef cattle nutrition). But you won't be surprised that she was a library volunteer in the second grade or that in January she bought the Fountain Bookstore from longtime owners Louise "Boo" and Jim Smythe.

The Fountain, started by Joyce Clay in 1978, specialized in corporate and technical books until the Smythes bought it in 1985. In 2000, the Smythes hired Justice to bring the bookstore into not just the regional but also the national arena. Justice has been inching toward that goal ever since.

"Richmond deserves great author programming," she says. "I want this community to get the connections with the written word that it needs and wants." In order to do this, she maintains media connections in New York and regularly attends bookseller conferences and trade shows, such as the American Booksellers Association's Winter Institute last month. "I took a particularly fascinating class in store design," says Justice, who in these classes is sometimes the student, sometimes the teacher.

Because of the overwhelming number of books published each year (Publishers Weekly reported there were 195,000 in 2007), Justice relies on a combination of reviews, recommendations and gut instinct in making her book selections. Unlike large corporate chains, the Fountain is not required to buy books based on numbers. Rather, Justice chooses what she thinks a particular Richmonder might like.

"Maybe Sue would like that book," she says hypothetically. "She's the only person in Richmond who would like it, but she would love it, so I order it. When the Folk Festival was in town, I increased the number of folk music histories. That's the kind of attention to local and regional detail that can't be replaced or duplicated in a corporate format." S



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