By LINDSAY RUONGRAT
Downtown Fredericksburg now has an LGBTQ+ pop-up bookstore, thanks to UMW senior and classics major, Andy Unger. Andy and Elliot’s, named for Unger and his fiancé, is located in Katora Coffee at 615 Caroline Street in downtown Fredericksburg.
Unger has spent the beginning of his senior year working hard to bring his dreams of working with books to life.
“I’ve always been an avid reader, and have known since I was a really little kid that I wanted to work with books when I grew up,” Unger said.
Unger realized during his teenage years he wasn’t cisgender or straight, and finding books that he could relate to as a transgender individual became difficult. “Characters weren’t relatable anymore, especially since so many books for my age group were romances,” Unger said. But that would all change when Unger was provided a business opportunity during his time attending UMW.
With the help of StartUpUMW’s founder, Kelsey Whitman, Unger was able to lift his idea off the ground. “She stuck with me from the vaguest concept to answering panicked calls about how to deal with realtors,” Unger said. “Susan Ball, who works at the UMW Small Business Development Center, has also been invaluable.”
“Andy is living proof that whatever you put your mind to, you can accomplish. He self-funded and launched his business while working to support himself, and he’s a full-time student. He is an inspiration at our office,” Whitman said.
Unger’s bookstore idea began as a short and vague business plan. “He was eager to write his business plan and learn to analyze business decisions. He worked diligently and incorporated the information we provided, both in counseling sessions and through our research network, to make informed decisions,” said Susan Ball.
Once the plan became more concrete, Unger was able to register the business with the government, obtain a tax ID to purchase books wholesale, and register as a proper business. Months later, Unger was given the go-ahead to start the pop-up shop in the storefront of Katora.
“We stress the lean start-up method and building relationships with other businesses that serve the same clientele,” Ball said. “Andy incorporated both of these concepts into opening the pop-up. He built a professional relationship that allowed him to get his business up and running sooner and with less risk than he would have faced by starting a stand alone business right away. The pop-up is allowing him to test the market and build a clientele before making a larger investment.”
Unger’s bookstore has expanded to around a hundred titles specific to the LGBTQ+ community. Unger is always on the hunt for new books to add and uses multiple different resources to stock his shelves. “It’s one part recommendations, one part Google searches, and three parts luck,” Unger said. “Sometimes finding one book’s publisher will lead to a treasure trove.”
Some of the newest additions to his bookstore include “Modern HERStory,” a book about prominent women and non-binary historical figures, as well as “On a Sunbeam,” a sci-fi graphic novel about found families.
Unger is still in the start-up phase and is continuously learning the ins and outs of running a business and what it entails. He is constantly working with booksellers and wholesalers to make his bookstore a continued success.
With the shop now off the ground and growing, Unger is eager to open up his doors as a full community space. In due time, readers will have the ability to check out books, attend movie nights and author readings and signings, and much more.
In the future, Unger said that he loves the thought of adding more locations in other places that, like Fredericksburg, have an up and coming and artsy feel. “I’d love to open a branch in Carytown, or Alexandria, to name a couple. A huge goal is to open a store in Asheville, North Carolina, if possible,” Unger said.
Andy and Elliot’s currently only carries LGBTQ+ oriented books but is in the process of adding a line of “Your Story Matters” stickers and buttons. Once in a more permanent location, Unger looks forward to expanding his selection of books and adding local art for sale.
Andy and Elliot’s is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday 12-8 p.m., Saturday 10-8 p.m., and Sunday 10-4 p.m. Hours are subject to change.