J&M’s Books and Play with Expanded Store in Vienna

People familiar with the history of J&M’s Books and Play, aka the artist formerly known as J&M’s Used Bookstore, who haven’t been to their new location are in for a surprise. The new location is downright expansive and all the new space has Jason McCrady – the “J” in J&M – excited about the possibilities.

Before looking to the future, perhaps a little history is in order. Back in 2010, McCrady opened his doors in a miniscule 800 square foot store in an out-of-the-way strip mall in south Parkersburg. Over the next few years, despite a less-than-perfect location, the business grew while other renters left, so they eventually took over the whole mall, but were still squashed into only 1500 square feet. After three years, an opportunity arose to move into a much larger space in the Kroger plaza. With their new location, they jumped to what felt like a colossal 3000 square feet. This gave them room to expand beyond books into games and puzzles, but the rapid growth of this aspect of the business caused them to feel cramped once again. They loved their location but had so many things they felt led to do, like host events and have bigger game nights and maybe even open an escape room.

Fast forward to the end of 2018. Their lease was up, and the owners weren’t working with them in their vision of expanding. Almost simultaneous, they were contacted, unsolicited, by someone who wondered if they wouldn’t like to move to Vienna as there was a much larger space available just a quick jaunt from the mall.

“A week later,” McCrady said, Hobby Lobby announced they weren’t going over to southside, they were going to northside, and we found this place and it just kind of happened. It was a God thing. It was everything we needed – apart from, we took down one wall and put one door in. We didn’t have to do anything else.”

And much larger is a bit of an understatement. Think taking both of their former locations, combining them, and then more than doubling that. “I didn’t want to expand to 10,000 square feet. I wanted to move to maybe four or five thousand square feet, but God had other plans. Didn’t want to move out of Southside, but God had other plans.”

And those plans are coming to fruition. Not only do they now have over 37,000 books in stock, their game and puzzle sales are exploding to the point that they are taking one of two rooms that had been earmarked as game rooms to dedicate to just puzzles. The second room is going to house the store’s impressive Christian non-fiction collection. They have also added a space for parties as well as something the MOV has needed since the last one closed down some years back—an escape room.

“It’s called ‘Bugout Bunker.’ The idea is your crazy Uncle Joe, who is a prepper, turns out to be right, and you have to follow clues to find a series of items in order to escape the room.” They are averaging between four and six groups going through it per weekend, and that’s without any real advertising.

It’s a lot more making it a destination center, an education center, a fun center, there’s a lot of different things we want to do.

Not only has the space been a blessing,  the new location is a boon to business. Many have discovered them and have started visiting because they’re closer to the middle of the MOV. They are getting people from north of Marietta who would never have driven the extra twenty minutes to south Parkersburg. People from Jackson, Ritchie, and Calhoun counties have even discovered them. “And it’s easy because they already know where the mall is, so it’s easy to explain where we are located.”

Another feature that has McCrady fired up is a large event space he’s working on in the back of the facility. He anticipates hosting a broad array of activities once it’s up and running. “Beyblade Club already started,” he said. He also wants to start Pokémon league back up, and allow artists to do classes, authors to do signings and readings, and even have paint and takes with role playing game pieces.

A local stained-glass artist and herbalist have expressed interest in doing workshops as soon as possible. “The state apiarist wants to do classes on honey and beekeeping.” He is also interested in presenting history alive events with local historians and re-enactors. “It’s a lot more about making it a destination center, an education center, a fun center, there’s a lot of different things we want to do; it just depends, now with the pandemic, when we’re going to do it.”

Speaking of the pandemic, he hopes it will be behind us by this fall so he can return to one of his greatest loves—hosting game days at local elementary schools and game nights in the store. To him, this is one of the most meaningful elements of his job because it’s all about building connections.

“I like connecting people to games, people to books—that’s my favorite part. It’s fun to physically interact with people.” He also loves seeing children who have played games with him at local schools bring their parents to game nights so they can introduce them to the games they love. “It’s the relationships.”

It’s no longer just used books, it’s no longer just a few games.

The reason for the name change is two-fold. First, people have a certain image of a used bookstore that, McCrady found, kept them from visiting. “People would come in and say, ‘Wow,’ and I would ask what they meant by wow, and they would say ‘I expected a bunch of card tables and plastic tables with stacks of books on them.’ Yeah, we’re not that.” And second, the new name better exemplifies what the store is really all about. “Because we’re up here, because we have enough room, because of the escape room, and going out to classes, it is changing to a more very diversified store. It’s no longer just used books, it’s no longer just a few games.”

It’s not even just that they’ve expanded past books—they don’t even just carry used books. “We carry the News & Sentinel’s books; we carry some local authors. It’s a lot of Parkersburg, and West Virginia stuff. Besides some role-playing books, our gaming books are almost all new.” At the request of several customers, they have plans to begin carrying new Manga books.

With all the changes, a new name seemed appropriate. As did a new logo, one that represents the ethos of the store. According to McCrady, it has four blocks, each containing a symbol of some aspect of the business. One, of course, is a book. The second is a game die, while the third is a puzzle piece. The final block contains a lock to represent what McCrady hopes is the first of multiple escape rooms.

The growth has been extreme, and it has happened fast. But to McCrady, a man of deep faith, it was all in God’s time. And it wasn’t done without strong support from family and friends. “Just to sit in the stacks and just look and go, wow, this definitely wasn’t me. Our families have definitely helped us.”

But it wasn’t just family. “We’ve got a lot of friends of the bookstore that have helped us. There was one point two years ago right before we opened, when we first moved in, when there were maybe fifteen people here alphabetizing, just to get it ready.”

Photo by Joe Stephens

Whether you’re a reader looking for a good price on a like-new book or a gamer looking for a new one to play, J&M’s is the place for you. But what if you are looking for puzzles or a fun evening puzzling your way out of an escape room? J&M’s is still the location to visit. Looking to host a party? They can set you up. Interested in hosting or participating in an event, like a class or book signing? You guessed it—J&M’s Books and Play is the place you’re looking for. And now that it’s in Parkersburg, on 37th Street, it’s probably on your way, no matter where you’re headed.