Not So Long Ago: Wisconsin and Prospect

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This week on Not So Long Ago, GM stops by a store whose departure (both from Georgetown and then later from rest of the city) left a large hole in people’s hearts: Olsson’s Books.

Olsson’s Books was started by John Olsson in 1972. At its peak it had nine stores across the Washington area. The Georgetown location, though, closed in 2000. Here’s a photo from the inside taken by the Post right before it was closed:

Since Olsson’s left Georgetown, this space has bounced back and forth between different clothing stores, most recently under the name Miss Sixty. Miss Sixty closed last year, and after a long vacancy, the store will soon open as an Ann Taylor Loft.

In 2008, Olsson’s still had six stores still open; GM frequented the Dupont location. But competition from big box stores and the Internet left the store struggling. It declared bankrupcy in June of that year and then abruptly closed all its stores in September.

Sadly, just over two years later John Olsson died of a heart attack.

While John and his stores are gone, GM can attest that they live on in the memories of all who loved them both.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Not So Long Ago: Wisconsin and Prospect

  1. John Olsson was a gentle, kind man who really cared for the community and its residents. His staff cared about the customers, and they knew their stuff when it came to the books and records they were selling. A far cry from the Barnes & Noble folk. I rarely had a conversation with any employee at Barnes and Noble. No wonder. I remember when they first opened and I inquired whether the new Larry McMurtry novel had arrived. The employee responded, “Who’s he?” That’s all I needed to know about that chain store.

  2. George M

    Olsson’s was a great addition to any neighborhood in which it was located. But in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s it was a center of social life for the neighborhood, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. It carried a lot of academic titles and coffee table books as well as a lot of both classical music and cutting edge punk /New Wave albums (Kemp Mill and Penguin Feather were often late to the game in that regard). And Olsson’s was the first local store to offer CD’s in 1984. I was also a big fan on the branches in Dupont Circle and the Shops at National Place. By the late 1990’s the chain had begun to decline, with fewer shoppers, fewer titles offered (the academic titles were the first to go), empty shelves and more used books. Its fate was sealed by then. I don’t think anything will ever replace non-chain bookstores as centers of social and intellectual life in any neighborhood.

  3. A week ago I was in a Giant grocery checking out, and I don’t know how it came up, but the young cashier had grown up with the Olsson family, and when I said I had known them as well, you could say the line got backed up a tad. I also had friends that worked at Olsson’s and managed in varied capacities. A lovely store. A lovely family. George M is right. It was a true neighborhood social center. As for the academic books, I remember buying a three volume set of The Philokalia there. Try getting that at a chain store.

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