By Megan Rowe
Social scientist Ray Oldenburg devised the idea of a ?third place,? an informal location in the community, aside from home and work, where people can hang out and make friends. Russell Chisholm, founder of Easy Chair Coffee Shop in the University Mall, believed Blacksburg needed such a place, especially after its only independent bookstore, Printer?s Ink, closed in June.
?It left a big void in town,? Chisholm said.
So Chisholm, along with Easy Chair partners Brian Babcock and Steve Andrews, decided to open a bookstore downtown that would provide the same friendly faces and first-name basis with customers that Printer?s Ink offered. Easy Chair Bookstore, located at the corner of Roanoke and Main Streets, opened its doors Monday with a carefully chosen selection of fiction, nonfiction, biographies, art books, children?s books and gifts.
The Easy Chair partners didn?t have much trouble finding people to work at their bookstore. A frequent customer at Printer?s Ink, Chisholm became friends with the employees and asked them to work at Easy Chair after Printer?s Ink closed. It wasn?t just that they had a combined 30 years of experience.
?People in town know these guys,? Chisholm said. ?They know that when they?re looking for a particular book, (the employees will) bend over backwards to find it for them.?
Dedicated employees lead to a loyal local following, and that?s one of the reasons Easy Chair Coffee Shop has held its own despite competition from the Starbucks across the street that opened in May. ?I don?t think Starbucks has had much of an impact on us,? Chisholm said. ?We?ve always been able to develop a very loyal local following and also very loyal clientele among the student customers we have.?
The bookstore is already showing signs of having the same community support. ?There are people that have told us they?ve been waiting weeks to order books through us,? Chisholm said. ?It?s a real community place, and I think the town is going to support it for that reason.?