+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photos by Jeanette Kreuzburg
For a nostalgic escape, take a stroll down cobblestoned Maryland Avenue in downtown Annapolis and prepare to be charmed. Push open the broad door to Old Fox Books & Coffeehouse. (Its tagline is “Where story lives.”) The squeak of the door’s hinges and the tinkle of its bell above signals that a new arrival has crossed the threshold into this magical, calming realm.
Your olfactory senses will be greeted by fresh-brewed coffee emanating from Brown Mustache Coffeehouse, located at the back of the shop.
Take a moment to gain your bearings. Shelves and bookcases line the front room. Stacks of books sit atop tables. You may feel as if you just walked into a home filled with books and objets d’art, the place where someone knows your story and you’re always welcome.
Old Fox Books & Coffeehouse is domiciled in an 1870’s-era building exuding historic charm. Original wood floors, area carpets, and an eclectic mix of furnishings and décor create a homey atmosphere. The shop formerly housed Annapolis Bookstore, which moved its location before Jinny Amundson and Janice Holmes, co-owners of Old Fox (a nickname given to General George Washington), opened its door on Small Business Saturday of 2016. “It already has an Annapolis institution feeling. A good vibe and energy, feels like a home and a community,” says Amundson.
That’s not by accident. Amundson and Holmes believe that the shop has a role in the local community as a mainstay, offering consistency with its open-daily schedule. “It matters for people to rely on that,” says Amundson. “One of the reasons people come is they know what they’ll get: coziness, comfort, warmth,” Holmes adds, “Also, elements of imagination and whimsy.” Treasured moments include hearing first-time visitors’ reactions. Comments range from “This is how bookstores are supposed to do it” and “I wish we had one like this back home.”
The shop reflects Holmes and Amundson—easy-going, relaxed, welcoming, ready to learn your story and hear about your life updates, travels, and interests. While seated alongside a long table ideal for leafing through book selections, former Maryland State Senator John Astle stops by mid-interview to say hello to the owners and update them on his book project. “He has been a good friend to us,” says Holmes. Later, another customer pauses to chat and catch up on his way to buy coffee.
Old Fox customers range from boating live-aboards and current and former St. John’s College students to out-of-towners and neighbors. Customers bring visitors to show off their local bookshop. “We love to see the shop through the eyes of first-time visitors,” says Amundson. It’s important, having that affirmation.”
“People forget we’re not just a tourist town,” says Amundson. “They think the parking will be a problem, but it’s easy to park down here to get to our bookshop. It’s a beautiful seven-minute walk from Calvert Parking Garage, which is free on weekends.”
While the shop carries both new and old books, Amundson and Holmes often don’t know what types of old books will come through their doors, as they are replenishing with sources such as collections from people downsizing their homes. They curate their offerings according to what interests them and what they’d like to read or learn. They also know what interests their large customer base and often think about who would love certain books. “We’re like bartenders, but everyone is sober. Mostly!” laughs Holmes.
The bookstore offers something for everyone, and if you’re stuck on what to try, then just ask. All the shop’s booksellers possess genuine curiosity and can make suggestions, and anything can be special ordered.
What does Annapolis read? “Annapolis is pretty literature rich,” says Holmes. “A lot of literary fiction, colonial history, maritime history—we try to find older, interesting books. Naval, pirates, history of rum, philosophy.” They sell many copies of George Washington’s Rules of Civility. Their proximity to Prince George and King George Streets—the shop nestled between—may serve as an influence.
Both Amundson and Holmes recommend trying new topics and taking a break from the multiple lists of recommend reads each year. They suggest sussing out former Booker Prize winners or older authors. “Barbara Pym is a wonderful writer who was forgotten in the 1950s, then rediscovered around 1977, before becoming obscure again” says Amundson. “There are so many amazing writers. Go to the older ones, see how new writers were influenced.” Holmes adds, “Be open to recommendations. Join a book club, start a book club, or join ours!”
Or you can take a chance on a “blind date.” While marriage proposals have occurred at the store (six and counting), Amundson and Holmes are a different type of matchmaker. At Old Fox the blind date is a book that they’ve read, wrapped in newspaper, with a natural adornment added such as a sprig of pine. A synopsis, penned on an index card, explaining what the reader might like about the book inside, is attached to the top like a gift card.
The store’s picturesque, book-rich space welcomes both young and seasoned readers, with an exclusive, children-centric section. It’s here that a child-sized chair has become the only tug-of-war in which the business partners engage; one will situate the chair so that it sits straight and “in place” on the carpet, and the other will later walk by, see that it’s “out of place” and catercorner it.
French doors lead customers to a deck with bistro seating to settle awhile and enjoy a cup of coffee or espresso and other locally sourced treats while perusing new reading material. A generous seating area awaits in the garden area, along with a bookhouse built by Holmes that’s partially made, literally, of books. Since opening, Holmes has rebuilt the garden bookhouse six times, a hazard of little ones not understanding that the books are part of its structure. “We hate to throw any books away,” says Amundson, “so we make sure to try and squeeze as much love and use out of all the books that come into our shop.” █