Eleanor’s puts a moral in the story

The cozy Eleanor’s Norfolk bookstore is located at 806 Baldwin Ave #1, Norfolk, Va. 23517.

Calee Lukowski | Marlin Chronicle 

Eleanor’s Norfolk is a small independently owned bookstore and bottle shop located in an outer neighborhood of Norfolk. Last September, the shop celebrated its second year. The shop is co-owned by Erin Dougherty, Anitra Howard and Ren Johnson.

The initial owner, Erin Dougherty, founded Eleanor’s Norfolk just after the COVID-19 pandemic. Dougherty was working at a local bar just before the COVID-19 lockdown. Due to the lockdown, Dougherty was suddenly without a job and said, “It was the first time as an adult that I was financially insecure.” The seemingly bleak situation allowed for a wondrous opportunity for Dougherty. 

“I’ve always loved books and bookstores…but I like the beverage industry, I like the service industry, and that community aspect,” Dougherty said. And so Eleanor’s Norfolk became a book and bottle shop, combining two of Dougherty’s passions.

According to the website, Eleanor’s Norfolk “is a radical neighborhood bookstore & bottle shop that also acts as a safe space for community activism, engagement, and learning.” The shop aims to “amplify traditionally underrepresented voices and encourage those seeking to be a more active part of their community by offering opportunities for education and conversation.”

The shop may be small, but it’s a mostly open floor plan, with light color walls, warm wood shelves and floors and beautiful artwork that makes for a lovely atmosphere. 

“Eleanor’s was a hole in the wall down in Norfolk. It was a fairly ‘homey’ feeling place with a very sweet staff,” first-year Ashlyn Boykin said.

Co-owners Ren Johnson (left) and Erin Dougherty (right) pose in their store. Third co-owner, Anitra Howard, is unpictured. 

Calee Lukowski| Marlin Chronicle 

While being a warm, inviting and quaint little store, Eleanor’s Norfolk also strives to be inclusive to people from all walks of life. A statement from Eleanor’s Norfolk’s website says, “We’re here to build up community, not to tear down.”

The website has various different points of interest, one being the curated books list. This list has many links to books for just about anyone. There is a wide variety of reading lists on topics ranging from feminism and cultural histories to young adult fiction. 

Another great aspect of Eleanor’s Norfolk is the multiple book clubs they host. Each is unique in the topics they cover and the meeting times; there really is something for everyone. Once again, the website does a wonderful job at advertising and promoting the many activities offered at Eleanor’s Norfolk. 

Eleanor’s website offers some insight into the different book clubs they host regularly. The “Intersectional Feminist” book club meets monthly and discusses books over a wide span of genres. The “Radical Studies” book club also covers a wide variety of genres and meets monthly. The “Speculative Fiction” book club meets bi-monthly and covers books ranging from fantasy to science fiction. Another book club offered at Eleanor’s Norfolk is called “Revolution is Sexy” and meets quarterly to discuss romance novels in community-led discussions. 

Although the store is relatively small at the moment, Dougherty has expressed a desire to possibly expand in the future. “So we would like to be able to host events and like classes and skill shares and stuff like that in the space while we’re open. So there’s an expansion at some point that’s going to have to happen,” Dougherty said. Dougherty also expressed that these are long term plans. 

Though space may be limited, that doesn’t stop Eleanor’s Norfolk from holding events that are reasonable for the size of the building. Besides the book clubs, Eleanor’s Norfolk regularly hosts several different “step study groups.” These tend to be on a large range of topics, some of the most notable are study groups on abolition and on Palestine and the current conflicts there. The store also hosts readings, themed yoga events and even wine tastings. 

The store also claims to take a very feminist approach when it comes to its overall theme. This approach can be seen in the decorations, such as paintings from local artists and the choice of books adorning the shelves. 

Dougherty said that although the original plan was just to hint at feminism, the end product magnifies the idea that feminism is a much broader subject. “Feminism can be this more inclusive, big umbrella scope that so many things can fall under,” Dougherty said.

When it comes to the community, Eleanor’s Norfolk seems to be a hit. Online reviews tend to be full of enthusiasm and appreciation. One review said, “I could ask for nothing more in a bookstore. An incredibly curated selection, local wines, beers and ciders, along with an eclectic collection of art and journals, etc. for sale. Not to mention the book clubs, community events, and the delight that is Erin, the owner!” 

Eleanor’s Norfolk is a lovely and welcoming spot to find a new book, to relax with friends or to discover something new. 

By Calee Lukowski