New Dominion Bookshop owner Carol Troxell’s sudden death in January sent shock waves through Charlottesville’s literary community—and left some wondering what would become of the downtown institution.
Established in 1924, one of the oldest businesses on the mall is now in the hands of a new generation. Charlottesville native Julia Kudravetz signed the papers November 15 to buy the bookshop, but it didn’t happen the way she might have imagined.
She left Charlottesville for higher education, and returned with an MFA in poetry from Johns Hopkins, where she taught future neurosurgeons “how to write a sonnet,” she says.
Growing up, Kudravetz, 37, a self-described “mall rat,” was a fixture downtown, where her mother was a founding member of McGuffey Art Center and her father had a law office. “This was always a place I felt most centered,” she says.
At Piedmont Virginia Community College she taught freshman composition, and at William Monroe High School in Greene County, her students learned how to write a five-paragraph essay. She co-founded the Charlottesville Reading Series at the Bridge, and that led in early 2016 to doing social media for Troxell, whose shop was still hand-writing receipts.
“I had talked to her,” says Kudravetz, about some day acquiring the business, but “not in any serious way, because it was hard to imagine the store without Carol.”
“Julia seems meant to take New Dominion Bookshop to its next manifestation,” says writer Jane Barnes. “She knows Charlottesville having grown up here. She has lots of youthful energy, an offbeat sense of humor, a racing brain. She’s ready to try new things.”
Barnes lists Kudravetz scheduling unexpected combinations in the reading series, which has moved to New Dominion, staging Donna Lucey’s reading at Common House “amid exotic cocktails” and playing ’20s jazz great Bix Beiderbecke as background music for Brendan Wolfe’s book signing.
Kudravetz realizes that implementing her vision has to be done “slowly and thoughtfully,” she says. The cash register has been updated with a Square credit card reader, she added cordless phones so staffers could walk around the store, and she’s got Vibethink designing a new website that’s scheduled to launch this week.
And she wants to have more events, particularly for children and young adult readers.
It turns out her experience as an educator has been invaluable for running a bookstore. “Everything’s easier than teaching public school,” she says. Even on the hardest days in the store, “my grumpiest customer is not worse than a 15-year-old having a meltdown.”
Kudravetz is aware there are a lot of stakeholders—and an intense loyalty to the shop. A customer came in recently with a list and ordered hundreds of dollars of books. “It’s never going to be cheaper than ordering from Amazon,” she says. “We offer something different.”
She wants the feeling of the store to stay the same: “thoughtful, comfortable, alive.” But there will be some changes, she warns: “There’s going to be a lot more poetry.”