Hole in the Wall Books, the cozy used book shop located within a faded blue house on Broad Street, will be closing up shop for good at the end of the month, concluding a 40-year run in the City of Falls Church that brought the right amount of reliability and eccentricity to make the store into an institution.
“The decision to close is personal,” says Edie Nally, who along with her husband and owner, Michael, have been running Hole in the Wall since 1979.
Edie and Michael haven’t been able to travel together to see their children since their youngest graduated high school in the mid-2000s. A rare chance to see their son, who lives in Raleigh, last September reminded the couple how long it had been, and with Edie in her mid 60s and Michael in his early 70s, they felt the time had come to retire. A 150-mile, round trip commute to and from the family’s home near Luray made the decision all the easier.
“The last time I saw my granddaughter was when she was 18 months old; she just recently turned four,” Edie said, while adding that the children do visit them as often as they can in western Virginia. “Someone always has to be around to take care of the store, so we’re looking forward to seeing them together.”
What will leave with the Nallys may be the closest thing to a stereotypical mom-and-pop shop in Falls Church.
Sturdy wooden shelves have book sections delineated by hand-written paper slivers. The subtle creak of the floorboards is covered up by the hum of fans and window air-conditioning units. A cracker-barrel aesthetic on the inside is the canvas for an assortment of tchotchkes, including a Pink Panther stuffed animal staring, superhero insignias and a picture of fictional character, Elric of Melniboné, to name just a few. And a small pillar of mementos from patrons’ vacations to annual Christmas cards indicate the relationships Edie, ever the social butterfly, fosters when guests come to the register.
All these elements give Hole in the Wall a vintage feel akin to its spring 1979 opening, which appeared to be a culmination of Michael’s lifelong passion.
Edie says the first book Michael read was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” at age four. He would go on to work at bookstores by the time he was in his late teens and early 20s before leasing half of Record & Tape Exchange’s space to open Hole in the Wall in its current location. When the record store’s owner decided to leave, Hole in the Wall would set down roots in Falls Church for the next 40 years.
While the Nallys had to move out west for quality of life purposes, they remained loyal to Falls Church. Used books have always been Hole in the Wall’s mainstay along with comic books, which Edie estimated accounts for nearly half of its business after they added it to the store’s repertoire in 1981.
Helping the Nallys boost their comic book inventory is longtime friend, author and former contractor with the store, Ted White. White, who also serves as the copy editor for the News-Press, sold a large collection of his used comics to Michael, including such prizes as Spider-Man’s debut in Marvel’s “Amazing Fantasy” #15 from 1962.
As Hole in the Wall grew so did its comic book distribution, which is where Michael reached out for White’s assistance again. White serviced comic book racks that Hole in the Wall was a vendor for — going around Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Maryland to restock empty racks or recycle out old editions for new ones. The gig lasted from 1986 to 1994, or about the time that Edie took over as the store’s face, while, as White remarks, a growingly reclusive Michael was able to dedicate his time to his real interest in book finding. Michael built a shed by his rural home to house the treasures from his expeditions, with some trips going as far north as New England.
To White, the store appeared well-liked by regular citizens but somewhat ignored by the powers-that-be.
“The City gave it no recognition and it received no promotion from the chamber of commerce. It’s like that member of the family you don’t talk about,” White said. “The store did have a significant customer base though — kids would hang out there and talk. A good number of people did have a relationship with the store and they’re going to miss it when it closes.”
The feeling is mutual. Edie says the hardest part about closing is leaving behind the bonds she made with customers.
Whether it was listening to someone talk about the starry night sky in Montana or proudly chatting about how one of her Christmas card patrons recently presented in front of the Supreme Court, she believes the interactions she gets on a frequent basis only come “at the seat of the world’s empire.”
“I’m gonna miss the people the most,” Edie said, noting that the intersection of a cosmopolitan essence balanced by a small town demeanor are what kept Hole in the Wall in Falls Church. “Single-handedly the most educated, nicest, coolest people on the planet live here.”
Hole in the Wall Books will officially close on Saturday, Aug. 31. Excess inventory that isn’t donated can be found on AbeBooks.com.