On an uncharacteristically warm November day, Main Street in Historic Ellicott City is bustling as neighbors chat in front of old brick and weatherworn paneled buildings.
Inside GreenRow Books, which opened Oct. 1, candles and coffee mugs adorn shelves filled with tomes. A pair of vintage green oars hangs above the cash register.
Owner Beth Panageotou, 39, made comfort a priority by using rustic, farmhouse-style decor in her store, but what makes GreenRow Books different from other bookstores is its ability to connect with its readers through a community of book clubs.
The Brown Bag Book Club, for instance, provides an element of excitement and mystery for readers. Members visit the store once a month and purchase a book — only they don’t know what book they are purchasing.
“I wanted to do something that would surprise [the readers] a little bit and would be very neutral in age and gender,” Panageotou says. “I thought if I wrapped the book [in a brown paper bag] they wouldn’t be able to judge it — literally by the cover — until they got outside.”
Cecilia Lane and her daughter Macey, 12, are Ellicott City residents and members of the Brown Bag Book Club and the middle-readers club, respectively.
“We were very excited to have a new bookstore right down the street that we could walk to,” Cecilia Lane says. “It specializes in literature that is appropriate for my daughter, and we get the benefit of supporting local business.”
For Panageotou, who grew up in New Jersey in a household of avid readers, opening a bookstore was the only thing that made sense.
After graduating in 1998 from Mount St. Mary’s University, where she met her husband, Panageotou “hopped around Maryland doing various things” until she finally settled in Historic Ellicott City.
“Having grown up in a place with a downtown and having two daughters, I wanted to live in a place with a downtown,” she says. “I really respect the community atmosphere that it brings and want them to be able to have the same sense of town that I grew up with.”
In an area like Historic Ellicott City, small, unique businesses thrive.
“Every store offers something different, so that if a person were to shop on Main Street in Ellicott City, he or she could walk from one end to the other and each store would offer a new experience,” Panageotou says.
Panageotou has big aspirations for GreenRow Books in the New Year.
“I really hope to become a mainstay on Main Street,” she says. “The biggest thing is to let people know there’s a real excitement within the store. It brings me great joy to be able to discuss books.”