Like Plan 9, City’s Cultural Bastions Struggle to Survive 

click to enlarge Jim Bland, owner of Plan 9 Music. - SCOTT ELMQUIST

After 30 years in Carytown, Plan 9 Music, Richmond’s best-loved music store, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week. Owner Jim Bland says he hopes the reorganization will allow the business to cut costs and relocate nearby after the holiday shopping season. Then, he says, Plan 9 can become a smaller store with a bigger selection of new records and CDs, holding performances and supporting local music “the way we always have.”

How are the city’s other longtime merchants of culture faring?

“It’s an interesting time right now,” Fountain Bookstore owner Kelly Justice says. “And I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life.”

Even with steady foot traffic, Justice says, there aren’t enough local customers to sustain Fountain, which has occupied a Shockoe Slip storefront since 1978. So she found a niche: selling autographed editions online. She sells e-books through her newly revamped website, Fountainbookstore.com, for the same price as Amazon.

Justice also has a personal touch. She recommends, delivers and reads aloud books to people who need story time. Just the other day she read a picture book called “Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes” to a local lawyer. “He left feeling much better,” she reports.

Video Fan, the quirky-cool DVD — and yep, still video — shop on Strawberry Street is celebrating its 25th anniversary. But business is tough, says Doug McDonald, who’s owned the place since 2001. “We’re still struggling.”

Business picked up a little when Blockbuster closed its Carytown location earlier this year, McDonald says, but there’s no competing with the immediacy of instant movies on phones, laptops and TVs.

What keeps people coming back to Video Fan, he says, is the staff’s ability to pick just the right movie from the shop’s collection of 14,000 titles. Current favorites are “Trollhunter” and “Norwegian Ninja.” McDonald also has seen a recent revival of interest in VHS rentals, from people seeking “the same sort of feel you get from records.”

Book People owner Ruth Erb announced in January that she was thinking about closing her cozy, book-cluttered cottage on Granite Avenue after 30 years in business. But you’ll still find her behind the counter.

“I don’t want to give up,” Erb says. “But if I were sane, really … I would give up.”

Walk-in traffic, never robust, has decreased. The business has no debts, she says, but it’s a challenge to make ends meet each month. Erb still hopes a buyer may take an interest in Book People.

“Somebody might come along to do e-books and all the things that we don’t do, and pull it through,” she says. “But that person has not surfaced.”


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