David Grobani was chopping carrots at his cook's job in Annapolis when he decided to buy a bookstore.
He was right where he always stood, chopping vegetables in the Loew's Hotel kitchen, when a co-worker walked in with a newspaper advertisement: "For sale: Charming bookstore in historic Annapolis."
Grobani and his friend John Casey, both book lovers and voracious readers, had dreamed of owning a shop like Charing Cross Books and Cards on Maryland Avenue, just off State Circle. The two decided to take a chance.
Last week, after several hectic months of researching the business and obtaining bank loans, Grobani and Casey reopened the shop as the new owners.
Grobani, bearded and polite, sits behind the counter of his new store, contemplating the old wood floors and rows of pine shelves. He is a man with a mission. He has books to buy.
The previous owner, who lost nearly half his business when State Circle was closed for repairs last year, was forced to cut back on the shop's inventory. Gazing about the shop, Grobani sees sections on jazz, travel, literature, humor. The shelves hold fine selections, but they're far from full.
"The philosophy section is downright anemic," says Grobani. "We don't want people to visit and say, 'The place is half empty.' " State Circle road repairs are nearly finished, and Grobani plans to expand the store's inventory. He's ordering dozens of books, hoping to be fully stocked by Dec. 1, in time for the Christmas buying season.
The new owners want to change more than the store's contents, though.
They want to give the place an emotional face lift.
The building already offers a quaint mix of books and atmosphere, with its subdued interior, paned-glass window front and fine offerings of literature and poetry. And it has the name -- enough to give many readers an immediate rush. Visitors may recall Charing Cross Road, a London street jammed with bookstores. Or #84, Charing Cross, Helene Hanff's true story of her lifelong overseas correspondence with the owners of one shop on that street.
But the co-owners say they need more than simply a familiar name and the novels of Evelyn Waugh or the philosophy of Bertrand Russell. They want the place to feel homey, with coffee and tea and chairs scattered about for comfortable browsing. They want classical music playing softly.
Charing Cross, they say, should be the sort of place that makes book lovers happy just to visit.
An empty side room will be turned into a forum for local artists who don't have a place to display their work. Book signings for local authors are in the works, as well as poetry readings open to the public. The free special order policy -- "If the book's in print, we'll get it for you no extra charge" -- will continue.
The two owners bring different gifts to Charing Cross. Grobani, 31, has retail and business experience helping his father manage three record stores in the Annapolis area. Casey, 26, studied American literature at St.
Bonaventure College in New York.
Every day they learn more about running a business, from licenses to corporate bank accounts. Says Grobani, "It's like moving into a new town.
You have to learn your way around the city so you can do your shopping."
He and his partner hope the public will help them out with suggestions and questions.
"We want the sense of a small store, where people won't be rushed or hurried or nervous," says Casey. "The goal is to garner more goodwill in the community. We want people to come here. Then we want them to like it so much they come back."