There has long been a secret bookstore owner hiding inside Venetia Huffman.
Venetia’s love affair with books began when her mother read to her as a toddler. She remembers the Nancy Drew series of mystery books as some of her favorites.
About 10 years ago, the Virginia Beach native began filling the garage of her Currituck home with books and furniture in hopes of one day opening her own bookstore.
A few years later, her husband Brian Gatch asked about the possibility of getting that garage space back for his lawn mower and yard equipment.
They got a shed instead.
But in 2016, Venetia finally agreed to rent a storage unit in Powells Point for all of her books. Then, as her 60th birthday approached, she took things one step further and started looking for a building that could become her bookstore.
When she saw the former State Farm office building (south of Grandy on Caratoke Highway) in August of 2018, she “had a vision.”
She signed a lease three months later.
Venetia and her husband Brian became “weekend warriors” to transform the space and make her bookstore dream a reality.
Their hard work paid off.
Read 'Em and Weep is just as much a place to come hang out as it is a place to shop for books.
When you walk through the door, you’ll find a kind of multi-purpose gathering place that includes a used bookstore, a cafe, a children’s area, a “stress-free-zone” porch and a reading room with sofas and board games.
The high ceilings and tall windows lend a natural and cheery brightness to the rooms. The light-colored wood trim and floors blend well with the bookcases, and pleasant music from Venetia’s personal CD collection plays softly in the background.
Next to the fireplace and two cozy chairs, a ceramic cat sits ready to keep you company should you decide to stay and read for a while. Framed puzzles with scenes of books adorn the walls.
Venetia admits that the fun part of opening her business has been the decorating.
“I have a secret interior designer inside,” she said.
Making the choice to retire and start her own business was a “huge, monumental decision” for Venetia.
Before formally retiring in February 2019, she had worked as a chief operating officer for a Norfolk logistics company. It was a high stress job, with an hour commute from her Currituck home.
Today there isn’t much of a commute and even less stress. Venetia doesn’t see the bookstore as a venture to make money, as much as the fulfillment of a lifelong passion. For the time being, she plans to run the bookstore by herself with the occasional help of friends.
“Everyone in my circle has been extremely supportive,” she said.
Venetia also found the process of opening a business in Currituck very easy and simple.
“I want to inspire other people to bring businesses here,” she said. “I believe there are vast opportunities.”
Being on the highway to capture customers who are traveling to the beaches and Outer Banks is critical in her opinion. It especially makes sense for her business.
“People visiting the Outer Banks like to take a book to the beach. A lot of people like to curl up with a book.”
One thing that’s been a revelation to Venetia is the power of social media, particularly Facebook. She wants to capitalize on those online connections to help people in the community.
“I want to promote local talent,” Venetia said. “I can be their storefront.”
She plans to feature the work of local artisans in the entryway of Read ‘Em and Weep.
If they need display cases, she said that she will provide them and not charge a commission. She also plans to feature an artist each month on Read ‘Em and Weep’s Facebook page.
Venetia wants locals to know that book clubs can reserve the space after hours and that the building can also be rented out for private events and parties.
Read 'Em and Weep will offer story time for children and also features a classic literature section stocked with required reading for high school students.
Book lovers will appreciate her eclectic selection and for those who have books of their own to sell, Venetia will offer store credit for gently used books.
Venetia hopes that seniors, retirees as well as students will enjoy spending time in her store, particularly in the winter months when finding places to go and things to do in Currituck can be challenging.
A recent visitor commented, “This is the best use of the property yet!”
Venetia couldn’t agree more and is genuinely thrilled with how well Read 'Em and Weep has turned out.
“I come in here and I just twirl!” she said. “I am so blessed.”
Read 'Em and Weep (Used Books and More) is located at 6580 Caratoke Highway in Grandy, NC
Call (252) 202-2454 or visit www.readem-obx.com