Riverby Books Rebounds From Tragedy
The Capitol Hill space of Riverby Books was perilously close to being leased to an insurance office. Then owner Paul Cymrot got a call from a former employee, and everything changed. “Not reopening was a very real option,” Cymrot said. He and his family were still grieving the death of his father, Steve. The co-owner of Riverby died on Nov. 29, 2014, after being struck by a truck near the bookstore while walking. The family, also owners of a sister bookstore in Fredericksburg, Va., closed their D.C. location at 417 E. Capitol St. SE to sort things out.
“This was a labor of love for me and my dad — emphasis on ‘labor,'” Paul said. As winter became spring, they started looking at other options, including leasing the space.
Then Lori Grisham called over the summer.
“That was what lit the fire. We knew that if we were going to reopen, it was going to have to be with somebody who knew who we were,” Cymrot said.
Grisham, a recovering journalist previously at USA Today and NPR, has deep roots with the Cymrots and Riverby.
As a student at the University of Mary Washington, she worked at the Fredericksburg store in 2004 and a little after graduating in 2006. Then she worked short-term at the D.C. location between her time at NPR and USA Today in the winter of 2013.
“I would walk or jog by the store and wonder what his plans were for it. I was sad to see it closed,” she said in an email, echoing the sentiment of many Capitol Hill residents who lamented the loss of the literary redoubt.
The Cymrots responded in the affirmative to her proposal to manage the store and went about the process of reopening it, complete with a little remodeling with personality.
Cymrot, for instance, took salvaged Patent Office filing cabinets and refashioned them into the new checkout counter. He even kept the the old patent applications that came with the cabinets, such as one he showed off for an old trolley line.
Against the facing wall, they have installed the “Off With Her Head” book display. “We think this is the largest collection of cover art of women chopped off somewhere between the top of the head and the middle of the nose,” Cymrot said wryly.