“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Inspired by the first line of Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway’s sells not only a wide range of books but also gardening merchandise and plants. This is fitting for a bookstore that’s nestled in the leafy surroundings of Berkeley’s Elmwood District. Founded in 2004 by Marion Abbott and Ann Leyhe, the store has been owned by Eric and Jessica Green since 2021. We spoke with Carolyn Hutton, a longtime bookseller at Mrs. Dalloway’s.
ZYZZYVA: What’s the coziest spot in your store for reading?
CAROLYN HUTTON: We often see kids hunkered down in our children’s department, lounging on the floor or cozied up on stools. There are little corners that make for a great place to grab a graphic novel or the latest in a series and forget about the world (and maybe hide from parents for a while).
Z: What’s a little-known fact about your store?
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CH: While our longtime and local customers know this, new customers might not be aware that the space that houses our children’s department and the bulk of our nonfiction titles used to be part of the Elmwood Pharmacy/Ozzie’s Soda Fountain business. (Our building dates back to 1921.) When we expanded, the contractor intentionally built interior windows that open into the current cafe space. The staff next door even passes us our lunch and coffee orders through one of the windows, which is pretty sweet.
Z: How would you describe the smell of your shop?
CH: This is such a great question! The smell of Mrs. Ds is a wonderful mix of new books along with a number of unique scents. We carry organic soaps and natural beeswax candles that combine for fresh, clean woodsy notes. And we’re really lucky to share the common windows with the cafe next door (Baker & Commons), and the aroma of their baking pastries (the chocolate brownies with a hint of cinnamon are addictive!) makes for a mouth-watering environment.
Z: Which new book would you recommend most to readers?
CH: I’m still thinking about Beyond That, the Sea, by debut novelist Laura Spence-Ash. It’s a gorgeous work of historical fiction, set between 1945 and 1965 in Boston and London. It follows the trajectory of two families, and how a choice made by one affects both for decades to come. It’s beautiful and heart-wrenching.
Z: Aside from your own, what’s your favorite bookstore?
CH: A Great Good Place for Books and Kathleen Caldwell are near and dear to my heart because it’s where I learned the ins and outs of the book business and forged so many relationships in the industry that I value to this day. I’m also enamored with Transom Bookshop in Tarrytown, New York. Chris Steib opened the shop in 2021 (a gutsy move, to say the least) and has created a super cool space that is intimate and thoughtfully curated. If I ever move to the Hudson Valley, that’s where I want to work.