Local bookstore is alive again as My Dead Aunt’s Books

Robert Harper, back row, is surrounded by staff and family at the grand opening of My Dead Aunt's Books, his new bookstore inside Tanglewood Works in Hyattsville. Photo courtesy of My Dead Aunt's Books

By TOM HINDLE — Bob Harper’s journey to find a new spot for his used book collection has been difficult. Following an extensive search, he found a home inside popular corner spot Tanglewood Works, stacking his prized used book collection high on rustic shelves in the store. He made his move official Nov. 3, as the new My Dead Aunt’s Books celebrated its opening with a series of events.

After losing his store, Robert Harper Books, due to high rental prices in Riverdale Park, Harper reached an agreement with Tanglewood Works. For Tanglewood’s owner, Sue Older-Mondeel, it was the perfect match.

“We were looking for a smaller space but loved Hyattsville. Bob needed a new spot, and I knew how I could help him,” Older-Mondeel said.

And help she did. In early October, Harper moved into Tanglewood Works, sealing a mutually beneficial relationship. The union goes beyond personal business endeavors. As well as helping out the respective owners, the pop-up also fills a need for the community, Harper said.

Jane Michalek, an employee at My Dead Aunt’s Books, re-shelves books. The pop-up recently opened inside Tanglewood Works. Photo by Gretchen Brodtman

“Neither College Park nor Hyattsville has been able to hold on to a good bookstore. I looked for various places, and the first floor space is so much better than the other spots I was looking at,” Harper said.

Harper’s official celebration involved numerous aspects of the local community, including music, book signings, and refreshments from Vigilante Coffee.

Councilmember Bart Lawrence (Ward 1) attended the event, and spoke about how the shop contributes to small business in the area.

“We’re seeing a lot of small businesses opening. Even more miraculously by our neighbors, which is great. I just think it’s fantastic now that I, or my daughter, or whoever, can roam in here, find a book, buy it, and maybe go have lunch … it just makes Hyattsville that much a better place to live,” Lawrence said.

The rest of the day featured book signings from local authors and music from The Repeat Offenderz. The cover band, consisting of local attorneys, continued Harper’s tradition of having local bands play at his bookstore.

The store’s unique name originates from a family member with an extensive book collection. When Harper’s wife’s aunt passed away, she had 300 rare books left, all of significant value. Thus, the name is an homage to her books, which served as Harper’s original inspiration to go into the book business.

“Her collection made me realize that there is value in old books, both in terms of money and just reading,” Harper said.

Small business has not always been kind to Harper. His former location in Riverdale Park was a local favorite, but closed down after the location became less profitable. He switched to an online-only business for a while before connecting with Older-Mondeel.

“Sue has taught me so much about small business; how I have to stand up for myself … I am a small business that is going to survive, and therefore the books will survive,” Harper said.

Lawrence supported Harper’s vision in remarks prior to the official opening:

“Riverdale’s loss is Hyattsville’s gain. I’m happy that he [Harper] has found a place to land here in Hyattsville,” Lawrence said.

My Dead Aunt’s Books is located inside Tanglewood Works, at 5132 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville, Md. The store is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 

 

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