John Olsson dies: Founder of Washington's legendary books and records store was 78
John E. Olsson, who was the founder and proprietor of Olsson's Books and Records, the venerable Washington-area institution that once dominated the local bookselling market, died Oct. 28 at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring of a heart attack. He was 78.
At its height, Olsson's was the go-to neighborhood bookstore - and music shop - for much of the Washington region. It boasted nine branches in the city and surrounding suburbs, anchored by a location in Georgetown where shoppers navigated aisles made tight by overflowing books, records and (eventually) compact disks.
Mr. Olsson is pictured at right in 2000 at his Georgetown store, where he kept an office. James A. Parcell // TWP
The advent of big-box chain stores, Internet booksellers and easily downloadable MP3 music files squeezed Olsson's profits, however. Mr. Olsson tried different strategies to improve revenue, such as offering Beanie Babies and other impulse buys alongside
political science tomes and albums by Yo-Yo Ma - but the store continued to struggle.
Mr. Olsson was forced to close his high-rent Georgetown location in 2002. The number of stores continued to dwindle, and Olsson's was forced into bankruptcy.
"Although it is certainly a sad day for us, I can rejoice in all the great memories of my life in retail in Washington," said Mr. Olsson, who by that time had been selling books in the District for half a century.
Olsson's was a Washington-area institution that drew crowds of faithful customers. A full obituary will follow; meantime, we'd love to hear from you -- please leave your memories of the store and of John Olsson below.
| November 2, 2010; 11:52 AM ET
Categories: Emma Brown, Washington DC-area people
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