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Flannery Buchanan builds community on words' worth

Flannery Buchanan’s Bluebird & Co. offers book clubs and plenty of readings and discussions with authors, as one might expect from a community bookshop. There also is room for merchandise created by local women-owned businesses and group meetings for parents of neurodivergent children.

Buchanan’s efforts to build community in Crozet and the surrounding area speak volumes, and that’s how she found herself among The Daily Progress’ Distinguished Dozen.

“We joke that it’s a Hallmark movie come to life,” Buchanan told The Daily Progress with a chuckle. “One of the reasons people read is to get lost in a story. Everybody sees themselves in a book. We try to make sure everybody feels seen.”

Buchanan’s Crozet story began to unfold when she teamed up with business partner and friend Chelsea Powers to create a brick-and-mortar destination for their complementary businesses. Buchanan’s Bluebird & Co. bookshop and Powers’ Fancy & Nell clothing business found a comfortable home together at 5792 Three Notch’d Road in the heart of Crozet.

It’s the kind of place that Buchanan, a mother of four avid readers between the ages of 9 and 18, dreamed of when she was a second-grader in Chantilly reading Beverly Cleary’s “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” and delighting in notes left by her teacher that claimed to be from Ralph S. Mouse himself. It’s the kind of place that seemed more possible to build once she started a mobile bookshop in her vintage trailer.

“I always say to my kids, ‘You don’t have to be Clara Barton and start the Red Cross to make a difference,’” Buchanan said. “Every book sale in the shop matters to me. If I can affect one person, that’s what matters.”

Buchanan and Powers realized that “there was a hole to be filled” in downtown Crozet life after a previous bookstore had closed. Tall customers would feel more at home in the powder-blue retail space than in her compact book trailer, Buchanan joked, but the personalized service wouldn’t change.

“People say, ‘How can you compete with Amazon?’ It’s apples and oranges,” Buchanan said. “We’re not trying to compete. We try to have a curated selection. People come to us because they want to shop small. You’re not going to get that from Amazon.”

Getting to know her community and her customers helps her match books with readers and local authors with audiences.

“We’re hand-selling books,” Buchanan said. “People will come in and ask, ‘What are you selling lately?’ And they’ll buy it. I’m vetting books for our community members.”

Buchanan graduated from James Madison University and met her husband in San Diego. In 2018, she told her husband, “’I really want to go back to Virginia. It checks all the boxes,’” she said. “Now that I’m here, I don’t want to leave.”

She completed a master’s degree in library information sciences, but teaching wasn’t her goal.

“I am not good at classroom management. I just want to talk about books with people,” Buchanan said.

Powers, her partner in the Crozet venture, said that’s the kind of thoughtful spirit and personal focus that guide everything Buchanan does.

“As I reflect on our journey together, I am compelled to express my deep appreciation for the incredible partnership we’ve built,” Powers told The Daily Progress. “Flannery’s thoughtfulness, impact and unwavering work ethic have truly set a standard of excellence that inspires not only myself, but our entire community.

“Her thoughtfulness shines through in every interaction she has with someone who walks into the shop. Whether it’s anticipating the needs of our customers, going the extra mile to ensure a [top-notch] experience or simply offering a kind word at just the right moment, her attention to detail and consideration make working with her a joy.”

“The impact she has had on our business and community is immeasurable. Her innovative ideas — and ability to see opportunities where others might not have — have played a pivotal role in our success,” Powers said. “Her contributions have not only elevated our projects but have also left a lasting impression on everyone fortunate enough to work alongside her.”

In addition to providing a comfortable home base for readers and authors, Buchanan gives local small-business owners — particularly women — room on shelves and in scheduled market events, not only to sell products but to network and build connections with colleagues. For makers who often work long hours alone, those connections aren’t always easy to find. Buchanan said that “women lifting other women” is an important business principle.

“Besides supporting authors, we support a ton of female-owned makers in the Charlottesville community,” Buchanan said, citing Old Dominion Candle Co. as an example. She carries the Charlottesville firm’s candles in her shop. “We try to give a platform for women doing interesting things.”

“She has been one of my big cheerleaders from the beginning and welcomed me in,” said Stephanie Wagner, owner of Old Dominion Candle Co. “She’s great about introducing small-business owners to each other. She’s always thinking of the next thing.”

For example, Buchanan asked Wagner to develop a signature fragrance for her book trailer, Wagner said.

“That was my first custom fragrance,” she said.

At the moment, Wagner is following another suggestion from Buchanan and “coming up with a scent that’ll be reminiscent of summer,” Wagner said.

“She’s just a go-getter,” Wagner said. “She’s always got ideas. I’m in awe. I’m a shy person. I see her interact with people, and it brings me out of my shell. She’s very welcoming, and she’s always introducing people.”

“Flannery’s hard work has undoubtedly been a driving force behind the achievements we’ve celebrated together,” Powers said. “In every sense, she embodies the qualities of an exceptional business partner. Her thoughtfulness, impact and work ethic create a positive ripple effect that extends far beyond our immediate collaborations.”

Collaborations sparked by Buchanan’s introductions tend to spread the joy, which pays off in deepened connections and compassion. Each year, when the Peabody School gifts its teachers with the opportunity to visit Buchanan’s book trailer and pick out a tome or two, she said, parents want to be sure that the teachers aren’t choosing with classroom needs in mind, but instead selecting books to feed their own imaginations.


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