Chincoteague Island, VA is home to mom-and-pop bookstore Sundial Books. Owned by Jonathan and Jane Richstein, Sundial opened in 2007 after the pair visited Chincoteague in 2004. The store’s first home was two small adjacent buildings but was soon moved into the building they are in now. It was important to the owners that Sundial had its own flair in addition to being a welcoming space for people to browse and talk about books. Sundial’s current location has plenty of natural light and a comfortable atmosphere, giving customers a charming experience the moment they step through the door.
Sundial Books sells an eclectic collection of new and used books, music, cards, gifts, and local art. Selling local work is important to Sundial’s owners, and their sales reflect that — their best-selling genres include books about the local area or by local authors. Chincoteague Island itself was made famous by the novel Misty of Chincoteague (1947) by Marguerite Henry, and Sundial Books has sold over 5,200 copies of it since they have been operating. While selling local books was always a part of their plan, the Richsteins did not anticipate how popular these selections of books would be. Today, local books make up half of their new book inventory. This includes fiction and nonfiction books about Chincoteague and the Eastern Shores of Virginia, in addition to books about the famous Chincoteague ponies. In addition to local authors, Sundial Books also makes a point to highlight local artists. The owners recognize the active and thriving art community in Chincoteague, acknowledging that “providing opportunities for local artists, authors, and musicians was important in developing our bookstore community.”
And developing that community does not stop with locals who live in the town year-round. Chincoteague is a prime tourist destination, with a population that grows exponentially during the summer months, so the set of faces in the store changes frequently. Regardless of local or tourist, the Richsteins are adamant that all who enter the store are considered valued members of Sundial’s community. Some return annually on vacation and others live in the area part-time. Jane says that their “community includes everyone from people that we see weekly to those who we see once a year.” No matter who steps into Sundial or how long it has been since they were last there, they are always greeted and welcomed as a friend.
Sundial Books has always found importance in uplifting local organizations and creating a place for visitors to feel welcome, but this past year showed how much customers love and support the store. Local customers and customers who would normally visit the store on vacation bought books online, made donations, bought gift certificates, and encouraged friends and family to buy from Sundial Books. Richsteins told me they were “amazed by the ways in which the customers rallied around the store. It was humbling to realize how many people were genuinely concerned that Sundial Books remain open.” Whether a customer is a frequent buyer or only stops by once a year, Sundial enjoys the immense support from everyone who visits in-person or purchases books from afar.
The Richsteins have true passion for what they do. Both in their mid-60s and thinking they would soon retire, they love running Sundial Books. As for the store’s future, they want to continue to introduce Sundial to new customers and give their existing patrons more reasons to come back time and time again to discover new and interesting books. The owners see bookstores as more than just a business: Sundial is a place for their community to gather from near and far to discover and discuss great books, and the pair hopes that their store “continues to reflect that philosophy and provide a welcoming space for residents and visitors alike.”
Not a member and want to receive special benefits and discounts at Sundial Books and other participating stores? Become a member and you’ll receive a Reckless Reader card and all the perks!
All images courtesy of Jane Richstein