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Businesswoman Feature: Laurie Kelly

Being a woman in business can be challenging. Being a woman starting your own business can be even more challenging, but many have walked the road before us and can provide valuable advice based on their experiences. I had the opportunity to talk to Laurie Kelly about starting her own business right here in Blacksburg. Laurie Kelly opened Blacksburg Books, a local bookstore in downtown Blacksburg, to create a space for people to come together through their love of books.

Graduating from Whitworth University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Language, Laurie Kelly spent a lot of her time in college reading. She developed a love of reading before college growing up around books in her house and having a huge collection of her own. She began visiting local bookstores wherever she could find them. “Anywhere I would travel I would seek out used bookstores because I just loved being in them,” she said. It was clear that one of her greatest passions is reading and her love of books.

Kelly and her family moved to Blacksburg in 2014, where she recognized the absence of a local bookstore. Kelly believed that this could be an opportunity to start her own business providing a bookstore for the local community. “I’d heard from a lot of people and felt it myself that Blacksburg was missing that,” said Kelly. Despite her love of local bookstores, Kelly believed that starting her own wasn’t an option during her early years in Blacksburg. “Probably a number of years ago I thought this wasn't feasible. I couldn't make a living at it. But all things just sort of came together for me,” she said. Kelly took the chance in 2020, when she began gathering books to build an inventory for a local bookstore through the Facebook page, Everything Blacksburg.

In August 2021, Kelly successfully opened her bookstore in downtown Blacksburg, creating a place where Virginia Tech students and locals could gather to read used and new books, enjoy locally made products, and meet new people. When asked what challenges she faced along the way to creating her own business, Kelly stated that one of them was not being able to be in the store as often as she would like to be. “I work in the store when I am able to but I do a lot of the behind the scenes work from a business and financial standpoint,” said Kelly. In addition to Blacksburg Books, Kelly works full time at Torc Robotics. In order to maintain the store, Kelly hired Ellen Woodall as a manager to assist her in running her business. “I knew I couldn’t do it by myself and she does a fantastic job of running the bookstore,” said Kelly.

Despite the challenges faced in starting her own business, Kelly continues to do it because it is one of her passions. “There are a lot of behind the scenes responsibilities and one of the hurdles is just making time for that. I do it because I love it, so I make it happen,” said Kelly.

When asked what her favorite part of running her own business at Blacksburg Books is, it was clear how much love Kelly has for her career “My favorite part is when I get to be there watching people look at books and finding something. It happens really frequently that somebody will find a book and say something like ‘oh I’ve been looking for this for years’ or ‘I remember this book from when I was a kid or when I was in school and I love this book.’ and it’s always about used books, we sell new books as well because that is what the community seems to appreciate, but those treasures are in used books.”

When asked what advice she would give to women thinking about starting their own business, she said to “do your research, to make sure that there is going to be demand for what you have to offer, and to really work on a business plan and consult with people who know and have been there before.”

Laurie Kelly arrived in Blacksburg with a passion for reading. She took this love and turned it into a business she could share with others in the community, which has welcomed the opportunity to have a local bookstore of its own. “I am really grateful for the opportunity to do this and the warm reception we’ve gotten from the people in Blacksburg,” said Kelly.

If you get the chance, visit Blacksburg Books in Downtown Blacksburg to hear from authors, try local foods or beverages, and find the books that you love. Starting your own business can be intimidating, but Laurie Kelly is a great example of a woman who turned her passion into a career. Don’t be afraid to take the same step and start your own career in a field you are passionate about.

By Katie Smith

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