Serendipity Book Shop, Fairfax
I used the Serendipity Book Shop, where I worked (“which I inhabited” might be a more descriptive phrase) for several years in the early 1970’s as a template for the bookstore in This Shared Dream.
The original was in the Pickett Shopping Center in Fairfax, Virginia. It was across Little River Turnpike from Robert Frost Middle School, which I attended when it was brand new (we double-shifted at Woodson High until Frost was completed). As if it had been picked up by a tornado and deposited in Oz, I situated my fictional bookstore in Washington, D.C.
When you enter DC via Key Bridge, you see directly before you a row of townhouses on M Street, remnants of early Georgetown. As is the perogative of fiction writers, I used this picturesque location for my fictional bookstore. In the early sixties, when my family moved to the Washington area, these were decrepit, boarded-up squats. Presently, they are filled with tony shops. Sonny’s Surplus was right across the street, and was THE place to stock up on the military outfitting, such as boots and handy, many-pocketed Army jackets (I wore my father’s, but got my Army pack, boots, etc. there) that were de rigueur among certain circles in the late sixties.
Up Wisconsin Avenue was a tea and coffee shop where I made regular stops; I was a tea connoisseur and loose tea was essential. I also frequently hit an art shop that carried my green Morilla Clipper Ship blank spiral notebooks; all of my early writing is in these notebooks (easily a hundred of them, presently in boxes). I went to The Cellar Door, situated almost under the golden-domed Riggs Bank at the corner of Wisconsin and M as often as possible. In fact, in doing a search, I realized that I saw the premier performance of “Country Roads” there.
Georgetown seemed the perfect place for my fictional bookstore, and Serendipity was my home for a long time. The intellectual spectrum of the books Steve Aloi, the owner, stocked, was lovely, and the books, as they will, infused my being. I spent all of my pay there and at Giant Music, unfortunately in the same shopping center. My parents were understanding, and glad that they could afford me this incredible luxury. Steve Aloi opened several other bookstores, and I worked in two of them, including a closet-sized store in Springfield where I worked all one summer, alone, steadily devouring books, as there were few customers.
The Serendipity Book Shop was tragically destroyed by a tornado in the mid-1970’s. It never re-0pened.
I recently received a nice letter about Serendipity:
Ms. Goonan — I just started reading This Shared Dream, and found your note about Serendipity Books! My family lived in Fairfax from 1967 and shopped at Pickett. I graduated from Woodson High School, virtually across Little River Turnpike from the shopping center, and I have many fond memories of browsing in Serendipity. What great bookstore, and what a loss.
I’ve enjoyed your work ever since Queen City Jazz, and am delighted to have this chance to say thank you.
It’s always nice to hear from my readers, and I especially appreciated this note.