Second act: A new life for used books—and store’s owner

Former UVA professor Daphne Spain is confident about her prospects selling used books in the former home of Read It Again, Sam. Photo by Eze Amos Former UVA professor Daphne Spain is confident about her prospects selling used books in the former home of Read It Again, Sam. Photo by Eze Amos

Amazon has been blamed for the demise of bookstores, but that doesn’t seem to deter people from taking up the retail cause on the Downtown Mall. New Dominion got a new owner in November 2017, and last month the former Read it Again, Sam reopened as 2nd Act Books.

The name comes from both its second-hand retailing and the career path of its owner. “I had been retired for two years and got tired of it,” says Daphne Spain, who taught urban and environmental planning at the University of Virginia for 30 years. “So when the space became available, I decided I would give it a try—my second act.”

Read It Again, Sam’s founder, Dave Taylor, owned the business for 20 years until passing away in April 2017. Longtime customer Dennis Kocik then bought the store from Taylor’s widow, hoping to keep it in business, but he closed the store last fall. Landlord Joan Fenton used the space as a holiday pop-up store, and Spain took over in February.

On a visit to the store last month, Spain conscripts a reporter into retrieving a bucket of wine from the loading port. “It’s for a panel of mystery writers,” she says. She’s continuing Taylor’s tradition of holding a crime wave panel for the annual Virginia Festival of the Book

Passing a back room lined with empty shelves, Spain says, “we’re looking to fill these up.” She estimates the building’s total capacity is 10,000 books.

According to Spain, around three-quarters of 2nd Act’s collection is donated. “Donations have given us a head start,” she says, joking that Marie Kondo’s hit show on decluttering has boosted contributions.

Like the books, little in the store is new. Reading areas are furnished with chairs and end tables from Habitat for Humanity, where Spain volunteers every Monday. The building’s green-marble facade at 214 E. Main St. still bears the name of a former tenant, Keller & George. Spain, who volunteered as a book-duster at Read It Again, Sam, retained three of its employees.

Bookstores run in the new owner’s family. “My grandmother owned a bookshop in Sebring, Florida, in the ’50s,” Spain says. “She supported five kids with that store so I spent a lot of time there as a kid.”

2nd Act boasts an expanded children’s section, with child-sized tables and chairs, book buckets, and wooden train sets situated near a lime-green bookshelf stocked with kids books. A book mobile hangs from the ceiling.

“A lot of moms come in and say their children have outgrown certain books,” Spain says of the extensive donations of children’s books she’s received.

Spain is optimistic about her prospects. “Read It Again, Sam was quite successful for the 20 years it was here,” she says. “People want to see another independent bookstore succeed.”

Updated April 18 with additional information from Joan Fenton.

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