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Old-World Style at R.J. Julia's

by Jason J. Marchi


IMAGINE SWIMMING in a bottle of aged wine. This is how walking into R.J. Julia Booksellers feels – warm and fragrant, full of body. Conceived by Roxanne Coady and built in 1990 in the architectural tradition of an old-style Philadelphia bookstore, R.J.'s interior is decorated in red mahogany bookcases, stained hardwood floors, and walls dressed in pale wallpapers and hunter green paint.

Outside R.J.'s stretches the community of Madison, Connecticut, population 24,332. Area towns are steeped in New England history and sprinkled with homes dating from the 1600s. Yale University makes its home twenty miles to the west in New Haven. To the east lies Mystic Seaport & Museum, a major port during colonial times and the exterior filming location of Stephen Spielberg's film, Amistad.

Three years before opening the bookstore, Roxanne was the first woman to earn the title of National Tax Director for BDO Seidman, LLP, a leading tax consulting and financial services firm. In 1998, she appeared on the cover of Money Magazine in honor of her professional accomplishments. But Roxanne's love of books defined a new chapter in her life after she departed the fast-paced corporate life.

"We take great pride in the type of bookstore we are and have learned from [our customers that] our old-world style matters," Roxanne said in the monthly newsletter The R.J. Julia Review. "Yet we all live in a world that seems to be in high speed, overwhelming us with choice, leaving us with scarcity of time."

Time is abundant in this clean, well-lighted place off the main street. Here readers can escape the bustling world and browse in the company of fellow readers. Chairs tucked into corners silently summon browsers to leaf through books in comfort. Like the stars on the famed Hollywood Boulevard sidewalks, the dark wooden floors sport the signatures of authors in gold-colored paint: Virginia Woolf, G. Bernard Shaw, Robert Burns. On the walls are quotes from authors: "A good book is never exhausted. It goes on whispering to you from the wall, and Cicero: "A room without books is like a body without a soul."

Monthly events include children's Story Time, Murder Mystery Night for singles, poetry slams, and the Summer Olympic Reading Program for kids. On the second floor, writers meet monthly to share manuscripts and marketing tips. Sebastian Junger, Gloria Steinem, Frank McCort, and Ann Rice have all visited R.J.'s to sign their books and help spread passion for the written word.


Capitalizing upon its successes, six years ago R.J.'s expanded into an adjacent building and doubled the number of its children's and how-to book titles. The former children's department is now Nancy's Coffee Café. Each noon and evening, the café fills with the sound and aroma of frothed milk turned into cappuccinos and lattés. Over coffee and deserts, café patrons discuss how coffee has become an American tradition, akin to the British and their afternoon tea. "Coffee and books," said Steve Lee of Guilford, a customer seated before the tall, mullioned bay window of sparkling clean panes, "is a class thing, like an Irish Pub offering warm Guinness, darts, and conversation." ♦

From the February 2003 issue of Byline magazine.

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