Lynchburg’s Favorite Bookstore Celebrates 40 Years

The convenience of online shopping makes it a formidable foe to brick and mortar retailers, but certain stores have such a rich presence and proffer such an enjoyable shopping experience that customers forego their PCs to visit them time and time again. Givens Books & Little Dickens is among the most captivating of these stores. Voted “Best Bookstore” and “Best Children’s Store” numerous times in the Lynchburg Living annual “Best of” awards throughout the past decade, Givens has earned the title of Lynchburg’s favorite bookstore. Although it has grown and evolved in its 40 years of business, it has remained the quintessential independent bookshop to this day.

Givens Books, originally Boonshire Books, was founded in 1976 by George and Sylvia Givens. The Givenses moved to Lynchburg from Tucson, Arizona with six children in tow (they would go on to have two more) and chose a renovated 1930s gas station on Boonsboro Road as the site for their bookstore. Four years later, the Givenses moved the store across town to Lakeside Drive and changed its name to Givens Books. In 1989, George and Sylvia’s son Danny and his wife, Kathy, opened Little Dickens in a small space next to the bookstore. “Our idea was to provide Lynchburg with its first teacher supply store and educational toy store,” says Danny Givens, the current owner of Givens Books & Little Dickens.

“At the time, even Toys ‘R’ Us didn’t exist, but we carry toys different in nature anyways than your typical toy store.

We believe our toys have significantly more play value on the whole and help to develop children in different ways.”
Danny and Kathy Givens bought the business when George retired in 1999, and Givens Books and Little Dickens merged into one business at its new, larger location on Lakeside Drive. The Drowsy Poet café opened inside the store in 2000. The Drowsy Poet’s “Milton” milkshake is widely considered a Lynchburg staple.

Danny Givens attributes the bookstore’s continued success to several factors. “Despite the challenges of online shopping and the e-book, we feel Givens Books & Little Dickens has been able to carve out a special niche and earn the trust and loyalty of Lynchburg and the surrounding counties,” he says. “Our special order books arrive in one to three days with no shipping cost so our customers get their special orders fast, and our discounts to schools, churches and organizations compete with online websites easily.”

Additionally, Givens notes that the e-book trend seems to be tapering off, while more old-school trends are making a comeback. “E-readers have actually leveled off,” he remarks. “They started with a bang and according to statistics have leveled off in popularity. I personally like the touch of a real book. We grew up with thousands of books in our home, so I’m never tempted by the e-craze. Many of our customers are the same. There are 400 more bookstores now than there were 10 years ago; small Mom and Pop bookstores are making a comeback. We may be moving more toward a slower, smaller mindset with shopping away from fast and enormous. Even Wal-Marts are building smaller stores.”

The friendly and well-read staff at Givens is another major contributor to the store’s success, and the fact that staff members make buying decisions gives the store an edge over chain bookstores.

“Being locally owned, we know the community and their tastes in reading, and we respond to their needs both with books and toys,” Givens notes.

“Buying decisions are made here, by the staff and buyers, not buyers in cubicles in New York City with chain stores. Our staff members are heavy readers also and love to make book recommendations to our customers.”

Although Givens Books & Little Dickens embraces the old school in many ways—for instance, vinyl records are now available for purchase there—the store is in the process of being updated. “For our 40th anniversary, we have made updates and improvements with new paint inside and new signage outside on the building and the street; a few more improvements will be made in the coming months,” Givens says. “We put emphasis on what customers see and how they feel when they come in. We feel customers notice this upon entering. It’s warm, welcoming and charming.”

The bookstore also has a strong social media presence; they have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and an Instagram account (@givensbooks_littledickens), which features photos of whimsical displays, new products, and customers enjoying their time in the store.
In the future, Givens hopes that his store will continue to create customer loyalty by providing a rich shopping experience while offering products that enrich people’s lives. “Retail is more than acquisition of products; I think it should be an experience,” he says. “If I could sum up our goal, I would say it would be to continue to feed the curiosity of our customers. Our customers tend to be readers and curious. Our store tries to satisfy the human drive to learn and grow. I love trying to meet that goal with books and educational toys for all ages. We should never stop playing and learning no matter what age we are. Doing this makes us vibrant, inquisitive and interesting humans.”
For Givens, nothing beats seeing his customers smile. “I love working with smart people and customers and knowing I might just find the next great book for someone to read or next toy to make kids smile,” he says. “I love working around people and products that satisfy my need to learn more. We love seeing new people come in and observe them smiling deeply as they look around.”

One particular memory of customer satisfaction stands out to Givens.

“A teacher came in a couple years ago,” he recalls. “I wish I could remember her name. She came in and said, ‘Wow, so this is what teacher heaven is like!’

I’d like to think that we provide happiness for our customers.”

By Emily Hedrick