Prospero’s Books, an anchor of Old Town Manassas, won’t be reopening when shops across Virginia get back to business.
Owner Gary Belt called the shop a casualty of the pandemic-related shutdown and said it will close for good. March 16 was its final day of operation.
“The economic realities of owning and operating a used bookstore is something that just wasn’t tenable any longer,” Belt said. “It’s just one of those things. It’s nobody’s fault.”
A bookstore has occupied the ground floor of the Hibbs & Giddings Building since 1997; Prospero’s opened when Belt bought the building in 2008. On Monday, the city council added the building to its historic landmark list.
Belt says he never thought he’d make money selling used books. In fact, the store has lost over $14,000 since it opened, according to Belt. The pandemic “didn’t help,” said Belt, but it wasn’t the sole cause of the closure. Still, he said he could never imagine anything other than a bookstore in the space, with its original hardwood flooring, pressed tin ceiling and chandeliers.
But the building — finished in 1912 — has a long history of different kinds of retail. After Albert Speiden, a prominent local architect who also designed the Old Town Hall in Manassas, originally built it, E. Humphrey Hibbs and Eugene B. Giddings moved their men’s clothing shop in, giving it its name.
When he eventually begins advertising the retail space for rent, Belt expects it to the be one of the most sought-after spaces in the city. He plans to retain ownership of the building and the four apartments above the store. Belt is weighing whether or not to put the store’s inventory up for auction. He said he’d consider having someone take over the used book business, but he doesn’t see it as a likely outcome.
He hopes to have a new tenant this summer.
“It’s hopefully going to be this summer or the fall, because the economy is crushed,” Belt said. “Old Town is crushed. Businesses can’t do what they need to do to stay in business.”