Riverrun Books is a bookstore specializing in used, rare and out of print books located in Greensboro.
The surrounding area is familiar to Greene County residents: a quiet street, a small park filled with trees and the Monongahela River just a few steps away. The inside, however, is what one would expect to find in the hip part of a big city.
Riverrun is Greene County’s only bookstore. And, according to owner Robert Richards, it is also the only noncorporate bookshop in both Washington County and West Virginia’s Monongalia County.
Although it may sound like having monopoly is a great thing, Richards isn’t happy about the lack of resources for kids growing up in the area, especially because the nearest library is over 10 miles away in Carmichaels.
“Every town should have a library. A library is critical to one’s development. It offers immediate access to knowledge,” he said. “As for the bookstore, we do what we can. When the kids come in, I always make sure I have a bundle of free books. I help them if they need help. That’s what we can do by being open, by being street side.”
It isn’t only for young readers, though. Richards believes the store can also revive the joy of reading in adults who may have lost the habit.
“The mere exposure of this place when some people come in is a good thing. They start to wonder, like, ‘What is it I’m missing?’ or ‘It’s been 20 years since I’ve picked up a book,’ and they start to remember ‘Well I really liked doing that, you know, reading before going to sleep,’ that kind of thing,” he explained. “So something kicks in, some positive charge.”
Riverrun Books carries around 50 categories of books from arts and sciences, poetry and novels to American history, subdivided into east, west and, of course, Appalachia.
Walking through the cases, one finds publications about all of Western Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh, Greene and all surrounding counties. Plus, transportation guides from the 1930s, vintage paperbacks and even books on alcohol and alcoholism – which, as specialists know, are highly collectible.
For the past few years, the store’s vinyl collection has also been growing and might soon occupy a new building.
The theme of carrying classics also expands to music, with rock ’n roll being one of the main genres, as well as folk music, especially from Appalachia, which includes coal mining songs and records related to early immigrants to the region – Slovaks, Hungarians, Ukrainians.
Although it is a large collection, Richards pointed out it was built carefully.
“These were handpicked books. I can walk into a room with 5,000 books and only come out of it with 50 because there’s a lot of junk out there,” he said. “We’re not wasting anyone’s time when they come in here. They’re going to find good stuff.”
Richards has been building the collection for 35 years. In 1983, he was working in a bookstore in Chicago when his wife suggested they open their own shop. A collection from the south side of the city launched their business and, soon after, the couple moved to Pittsburgh.
Riverrun Books started in South Oakland in 1984 and, the next year, moved to Morgantown. However, Greene County was always supposed to be the final location, the couple just needed a base of operations while a family house in Greensboro was being restored.
The 106 County St. space has been open since 1990 and it’s been the shop’s main location since 1995.
“The building was in the family,” he said. “We understood the beauty of the situation, this place that we could live and work next to a river. It’s in a beautiful place.”
Richards explained the couple understood there were disadvantages of leaving a busier place, but they saw the possibilities of small town life. At the same time, the internet was already expanding their consumer pool, so it all worked out.
Although online sales have been crucial for business, lately things have been changing due to saturation in the market. The focus, then, is changing to foot traffic. Richard’s daughter, Mary Aston-Richards, has been pivotal in looking at the future.
To begin with, she is focusing on utilizing social media to bring people in. She is also planning the store’s first-ever fine art and pottery sale, which will take place on Sunday, Dec. 15, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Pottery, and art in general, is not new to Riverrun Books or Greensboro. Richards said the area used to be a pottery manufacturing town, which explains its connection to art, housing not only events but also a community of artists. Moreover, the shop has done an artist residency for the past 11 years.
Aston-Richards came up with the idea for the event from her experience seeing pottery sales at California University. For her, art intrigues people and having the sale will not only be a fun experience but a chance to bring customers to the store.
For the family, having people come in is equally beneficial for the shop and for the community.
“Bookstores are coming back, but only in urban areas, so it’s good to have a bookstore in a community and in a region,” Richards said. “The bookstore does many things. It’s a street side thing, it’s where people can get information and it’s where people get answers because they walk into a space and suddenly there’s 20,000 books there, so there’s got to be an answer floating around there somewhere.”
The owner said he likes to see young people who discover books and the paths they travel to become collectors.
“My generation had record shops and bookshops and even head shops, where you got funky black light posters and wall art and so on,” he said. “(Young people) feel (cheated) in the sense that all of that has been reduced to smartphones … So, many young people have told me that they’ve got into going into bookstores and they’ve got into books as a result of it.”
Richards said they are also open to hearing ideas from the community about events they might be interested in holding.
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. To learn more about Riverrun Books, and its events, visit Facebook and search “Riverrun Books.”