Arts & Culture

A Look Inside First Light, the “Unmistakably Austin” Bookshop in an Old Post Office

A meeting place for good books and good neighbors

Already the busy publisher of the Wildsam alt-travel field guides, Taylor Bruce perhaps didn’t need also to shoulder running a bookshop. But he’s done it anyway, opening First Light Books in Austin with his wife, Robin, just a few weeks ago.

“For as long as I’ve been interested in publishing, I’ve been interested in bookstores,” Bruce says. “Through Wildsam I’ve gotten to know hundreds of indie bookshops. It’s the dream for anyone who loves words and print.”

Photo: Casey Dunn/Courtesy of First Light Books

Outside of the historic building; the counter at the all-day café.

Located in the bungalow-dense Hyde Park neighborhood just north of the University of Texas campus, First Light transformed a midcentury post office into a light-filled space that fully embraces the all-day café concept. The coffee window opens at 7:00 a.m. (two hours before the rest of the shop), and the café transitions from morning pastries to wine and charcuterie boards in the afternoon before the doors finally close at 9:00 p.m.

Photo: Casey Dunn/Courtesy of First Light Books

A patio for reading and café dining outside of First Light.

“The idea was a bookshop and a sidewalk café combined,” Bruce says. “We have a big, pea-gravel courtyard that’s a bit Texas, a bit Europe. There’s a lot of intention to make it all look colorful and handmade.” (To wit, the stained-glass window made by Blue Moon Glassworks across the street.)

Photo: Casey Dunn/Courtesy of First Light Books

Colorful windowpanes from the neighboring Blue Moon Glassworks.

Thoughtful lingering among the shelves of books is encouraged by window nooks with bench seats and sets of vintage leather chairs. “From the post office, we’ve kept the idea of this being a gathering place for the neighborhood, and people have really responded,” Bruce says. “Parents bring their kids, freelancers set up shop in the café, college students do their thing in the courtyard. There’s even some date-night stuff.”

As for the mission of selling books, First Light’s core principle is curation. “With 2,200 square feet of floor space, we can’t do it all,” Bruce says, “so while we don’t stock a lot of business titles, we have a big poetry selection. We’ve gone deep on nature and, because this is Austin, extra deep on books about music.” And First Light may have cracked the code on competing with the Amazon factor that has rocked indie booksellers. Even before the doors opened, it sold a whopping one thousand memberships to customers who get book discounts, free delivery within a five-mile radius, and free drip coffee.

Photo: Casey Dunn/Courtesy of First Light Books

Young readers explore a room of children's literature.

So now that the shop is open, how has Bruce found book publishing and book selling similar? “That’s a fun prism,” he says. “Wildsam guides go as deep as you can into staying local, informed by people who live and love the places we cover. We want First Light to be like that, to be unmistakably Austin and sewn into this neighborhood.”