She’s American and has only spent one year in France, but her French is impeccable. With a twinkle in her eyes and a bright smile, Jennifer Fulton opened the first French bookstore in the Washington DC area on April 2, in Kensington, Maryland.
The name Bonjour Books DC is no stranger in the area. The store had existed for five years, but not as a full-fledged bookstore: it was a temporary space housed within another bookstore. “It was a pop-up that kind of became permanent for 5 years,” says the bookseller. When a retail space nearby with a large window became available, she jumped at the opportunity to have a store of her own. “I think that there’s been more and more interest in the French language. My clientele has been growing, even though my bookstore has been until now kind of hidden.”
Bonjour Books DC was founded by a true Francophile. “My father’s passion for the French language rubbed off on me. He spent five years in France working as an engineer,” says Fulton, who only began taking the language seriously when her son was born 10 years ago. She wanted to teach him French in order to pass on her father’s legacy. She looked for bookstores that sold French books, but had trouble getting her hands on any French children’s books in the Washington DC area.
Fulton started collecting books here and there. One time, at a flea market organized by a school, she offered her collection of French books to public. Since then, she has been participating in flea markets and book sales. Eventually, the idea came to her: she was going to open a bookstore for Francophones and Francophiles of all ages.
In 2013, she moved into the back of the Kensington Row Bookshop in Maryland, building a loyal clientele by word of mouth. She piled hundreds of books on the shelves of the 10 square meter space. From the The Famous Five to the latest Prix Goncourt winner, she looks for the most beautiful stories written or translated into French. A polyglot, she also has a small collection of books in Spanish and Italian.
To mark its new start, the bookstore, which has between 1,200 and 1,500 books, in partnership with the French Embassy, will welcome the French illustrator Isabelle Simler for a book signing event on April 11 (register here for free). With this event, Fulton has truly come full circle: only 10 years ago she was desperately looking for a book event for children in French just like this one.