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Capitol Hill Books connects followers to literature through beloved Twitter account

Krishna Rajpara I Assistant Photo Editor
Co-owner Kyle Burk said the Twitter account has reeled in customers who wouldn’t have visited the store otherwise, including those from outside the District.

At first glance, Capitol Hill Books looks like a small neighborhood bookstore nestled in a tiny white brick building on C Street Southeast, but behind its mellow exterior lies a widespread and adored social media presence.

When you first walk in the store, any book lover will immediately sense the classic aroma of dust motes and aging pages filling the air. But more than a purveyor of published material, Capitol Hill Books connects its customers to literature through humorous exchanges between staff members, photos of gorgeous first editions and bibliophilic thirst traps on their Twitter account, which currently retains more than 50,000 followers.

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“I think the people who like it in general are the people who understand that we’re not taking it or ourselves too seriously,” current co-owner of Capitol Hill Books Kyle Burk said.

The account’s following list ranges from prominent journalists like Kaitlan Collins of CNN to politicians like House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. An array of D.C. locals also enjoy the bookstore’s occasionally snarky tweets, ranging from jokes about the impressively enormous amount of titles they sell to a recent seeming annoyance with Elon Musk.

“Proposed 2022 policy platform: Seize the wealth of billionaire technofascist cosmonauts,” the Musk-inspired tweet reads.

Mixed in with the humorous posts are sarcastic responses from other Twitter users who join in on the back-and-forth engagement touching on topics ranging from popular media to the store’s policy on dogs.

“This gave me flashbacks to the time in the college bookstore I worked at when my boss’s Dachshund peed all over a stack of brand new law case books,” one Twitter user wrote.

“Was his dog named Alito, by chance?” Capitol Hill Books replied, taking a jab at Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the author of the recent ruling that revoked abortion rights nationwide.

“I know a few of the tweets have gone viral,” Burk said. “It seems like it’s generally the more political tweets that go viral for whatever reason.”

A tweet from the account about the controversy surrounding Dr. Seuss books that were taken off shelves for containing racist content earned more than 70,000 likes in March 2021.

“No, we don’t have any of the recalled Dr. Seuss books and why are you suddenly trying to buy them now that you found out they have racist imagery, you weirdos,” Capitol Hill Books tweeted.

The store’s Twitter account launched in June 2013, but Burk said it didn’t become as active until he and his fellow employees started using it about “a year or two later” to entertain each other with jokes about books and literature. As they tweeted more, Burk said the account never received a steep influx in followers, but amassed a steady audience over the last decade.

“From my perception, it doesn’t feel like something that’s taken off,” Burk said. “We’ve been doing it for many years and slowly growing a following over those years.”

Burk said the Twitter account has reeled in customers who wouldn’t have necessarily visited the store otherwise, including those from outside the District.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, I’ve been following you on Twitter for years, and I finally made it to D.C.,’” Burk said.

Burk said the main mission of the store is to provide the “best books” it can to the community. The employees regularly post photos of new, used, signed and first edition books for sale on the account. He said the employees love books and want to share that love with everyone.

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“That’s the number one job of any bookstore,” Burk said.

He said before COVID-19 vaccines became widely available during the pandemic, the bookstore closed for 14 months and only took online orders because of the interior’s “tight space.” Customers could fill out a form online to order books, and the staff would curate the grab bags for their readers.

“During that time, we mostly stayed alive because we sold books online through these grab bags that are sort of curated by our staff, in accordance with the pace of people,” Burk said. “There’s a form on our website, they can fill out and order grab bags of books.”

Capitol Hill Books has gone through a few owners since 1991 when Bill Kerr opened the business. Burk said he began his career at the bookstore as an employee in 2004 before he, two other employees and one long-time devoted fan of the store took over in 2018. Burk said because of the store’s longevity, shoppers continue to return to its many shelves of books, which run floor to ceiling of the two floors of the small, colorfully packed space.

“It’s definitely part of a neighborhood in a pretty deep way,” Burk said. “People have been coming to it for decades. Some people have known both previous owners, and that’s where they do all their book shopping.”

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Stacy Staggs, a customer at the store from Jacksonville, Florida, said she stopped at the bookstore because of her “love of literature” and Capitol Hill Books’ similarity in size to a bookstore she likes back home.

“I’ve been here twice in the past years before,” Staggs said. “And I always really liked how small the space was. Reminds me of another bookstore that’s in Jacksonville, similar ‘crawl space’ vibes.”

Nikki Grigg, a customer from Chicago who previously lived in D.C., said she trekked out to the bookstore Friday to browse around and search for books on D.C. history. Grigg said she went to Capitol Hill Books when she lived in D.C., but the Twitter page and the variety of books has drawn her back to the bookstore.

“They just kind of have everything and you never know what you’ll find,” Grigg said. “It’s really just fun to spend some time in.”

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