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D.C. restaurateur to open another risky business: a bookstore

Wednesday - 5/14/2014, 4:59pm  ET

The tiny margins and horrible hours of the restaurant business must have made Paul Ruppert of Room 11, Petworth Citizen and the forthcoming Crane & Turtle a glutton for punishment.

Why do I say that? Because his next venture is — get this — an independent bookstore.

That’s right, in the modern times of e-readers, digital media consumption, and seemingly ever-shuttering big box book retailers, Ruppert plans to open Upshur Street Books at 827 Upshur St. NW later this year, next door to Petworth Citizen.

"Bookstores are something I’ve always loved, and I think they are a neighborhood anchor,” Ruppert said.

The project will be funded in part through Ruppert’s own investment, some pending crowdfunding and a $25,000 grant from the D.C. Great Streets program. He declined to disclose his own investment, but he has begun a "Founder's Circle" campaign and will be launching an Indiegogo campaign in June.

Upshur Street Books and Petworth Citizen won’t be physically connected, but their missions will intersect. The bar and restaurant has a reading room where it hosts literary events and a free book library that is open to all patrons.

The 800-square-foot bookstore will concentrate its offerings in four areas: literary fiction, poetry, art books and children’s books, “because we think there’s a demand for those in the neighborhood,” Ruppert said. “Other than the museums, there isn’t a good alternative for art books here in Washington right now.”

He’s seen the success of other small, independent bookstores in D.C. and elsewhere, which is why Ruppert decided to go for it.

“We think that by creating a neighborhood space that has lots of events with a really curated selection of books that we can be really successful,” he said.

This will be Ruppert’s first retail business — before opening Room 11, he was part of the team that ran the Warehouse arts complex on 7th Street NW — and so he sought out the advice of one of the country’s most prominent bookstore consultants, Paz & Associates.

Kristina Bilonick, who will be the store’s general manager, recently attended a “bookstore bootcamp” of sorts put on by the Georgia-based company in order to get more familiar with the business.

Ruppert hopes to begin buildout within the next few weeks and open the store this fall, in time for the holiday shopping season. In the meantime, he’ll be busy opening Crane & Turtle, the Japanese restaurant across from Petworth Citizen that is expected to open next month.

“We’re really trying to contribute to what’s happening here on Upshur Street, which is a great neighborhood with a lot of great businesses that have been here for awhile,” Ruppert said.

© 2014 American City Business Journals, Inc.