Welcome to one of the largest independently owned bookstores & Toy Shops in Virginia; a Place Where You Can Be a Kid at Heart
By Robin Sutten Anders
By the time Danny Givens was 13, he’d been to 45 states. One of eight kids, Danny and his siblings left their home in Tucson, AZ, every summer to tour the country. “My dad was curious; he wanted to see America’s many treasures with his kids.”
Plus, his parents had an ulterior motive: a dream of opening an independent bookstore and a desire to find the perfect location.
When the Givens’ summer tour stopped in Lynchburg in 1969, the whole family fell in love with city’s historic downtown filled with beautiful architecture. This would be their new home, Danny overheard his parents declare from the front seat.
While Danny’s father worked as a history teacher, their family set about renovating a 1930s gas station into a used bookstore. “We gutted it,” Givens remembers. “Boonshire Books was the size of a large living room filled with used books.”
After working with his dad, going off to college, and teaching English in Japan, Danny returned to his Lynchburg hometown. His dad’s business was still going strong, and Danny set about fulfilling his own dream of opening a toy store.
Today, at the larger-than-life Givens Books and Little Dickens on Lakeside Drive, those two worlds have collided into a wonderland for all ages.
Pterodactyls soar overhead and 7-foot-tall robots stand watch among Danny’s carefully curated selection of toys. College students cozy up by the fireplace. Children slip in and out of an ornate child-size dollhouse, balancing stacks of potential purchases. Their parents sip coffee and grab a sandwich at the Drowsy Poet, a French-café-inspired counter, complete with awnings. Diners are joined with the likes of Socrates, Walt Whitman and Virginia Wolfe, depicted on a mural along the store’s back wall.
Danny built Givens Books and Little Dickens when his five children were nearing their teenage years. His father was ready to retire, so Danny bought his father’s Boonshire Books and hired a London-based artist to design a combination bookstore-toy store, the likes of which his customers had never seen.
A few years earlier, Danny had embarked on a road trip, making stops at renowned independent bookstores and toy stores around the country. He kept a notebook with his favorite ideas. “Picasso said all good art is theft,’” laughs Danny. “We even laid brick from the original Academy downtown in the entryway. I wanted it to be enchanting and experiential from the moment people came in.”
Just last week, Danny received a letter from a customer who recently visited from Georgetown. “He said it reminded him of the first time his parents took him to FAO Schwartz when he was a kid.”
To Danny, Lynchburg still feels like the perfect home for an independent bookstore and toy store. “It’s an ideal size,” he says. “I think that when you’re in a really big city, there’s sometimes less of a buy-local sentiment. Lynchburg is big enough to support us, it’s safe, and in a lot of ways it’s traditional—our customers really love their community.”
Danny’s oldest of five children is a commercial pilot for Delta. “I can fly anywhere in the world,” he says. When he travels, Danny seeks out the local restaurants and shops. He appreciates that when he supports a locally owned business, “43 cents on the dollar goes back into the community. When it’s a chain, it’s about 19 cents. When it’s Amazon, it’s less than a penny.”
All the Givens Books and Little Dickens employees love to read, and they love to talk about books. “I hire people who are friendly and curious. If you come in and need a recommendation for a friend or loved one, they can help, whether that special person is 3 or 93.”
He’s not ashamed to admit that he plays with nearly every toy before he decides to sell them in his store. “I’m very careful about what I buy,” he says. “Parents love the way we have products that pull kids away from screentime.” And as a grandparent, Danny knows the importance of laughter and fun.
“I think curiosity is fundamentally important to being human and we should never stop playing and learning. I’m 61, but I still feel like a kid at heart.”