Politics and Prose


Politics and Prose (sometimes stylized as Politics & Prose or abbreviated as P&P) is an independent bookstore located in Chevy Chase, Washington, D.C., on Connecticut Avenue. It was founded in 1984 by Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade. They expanded it fivefold to its present size. After a failed sale attempt in 2005, they sold it to Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine in 2011. Its author events attract famous speakers, such as Bill Clinton and J.K. Rowling.

Politics and Prose
TypeIndependent bookstore
IndustryBookselling
Founded1984; 37 years ago (1984)
Founder
  • Carla Cohen
  • Barbara Meade
Area served
Washington, D.C., USA
Owner
  • Bradley Graham
  • Lissa Muscatine
Websitepolitics-prose.com

History


Founding and growth

Carla Cohen, after losing her job with the Carter administration, decided to create an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C., despite having no previous experience with running a business.[1] She partnered with Barbara Meade, whom she found through the classifieds, and who, with her previous experience of managing a bookstore, became a co-owner early on.[1] Cohen decided to name the store Politics and Prose because it was "Washington-sounding" and not pretentious, and the two co-owners founded the store in 1984.[2] Meade worried that the name was a put-off, and the store struggled at first to attract authors to speak at its events and relied on local journalists to publicize the location.[3] The store's original location in the Forest Hills neighborhood was across the street from its current spot, and in 1989, Politics and Prose moved to their present larger location after finding success.[1] The store merged with a nearby children's bookstore, the Cheshire Cat, and incorporated its staff in 1990.[1][4]

Failed sale attempt

A storefront view of Politics and Prose during the daytime

Business continued to be successful during the late 1990s as other independent bookstores fell by the wayside and companies like Barnes & Noble expanded.[5] Cohen and Meade decided to sell the store to Danny Gainsburg, who was selling his T-shirt business so he would be able to afford the cost of the store.[5] The co-owners made an agreement with Gainsburg that he would gain control of the store if he could function amicably with the rest of the staff.[5] Cohen and Meade set him up in a part-time position to see how he would interact with the employees and sold him an equity stake in the business without informing the other staff members.[5] Gainsburg was pressured to leave by the staff after he kissed an employee on her birthday.[5] The three co-owners agreed that Gainsburg should resign, and Gainsburg received his initial investment plus a premium.[5] Gainsburg said to the Wall Street Journal, "We all started with good motives, but there was lots of naiveté on all sides."[5] In 2006, a year after the botched sale attempt, Cohen and Meade both decided to hold onto the store as sole co-owners for at least three to five more years and met with an outside consultant to devise an eventual exit strategy.[6][7]

New ownership

Co-owner Bradley Graham introduces an author event.

In June 2010, Cohen and Meade announced their intention to sell the store. Cohen became seriously ill around this time, and it contributed to the timing of their decision to sell.[7][8] Jim Lehrer wrote of the impending sale, "...putting Politics and Prose up for sale is like putting the Washington Monument up for sale."[8] There was considerable speculation in the media about possible buyers for the store.[9][10] There were reportedly over 50 inquiries by October into the possible purchase of the store from Meade and Cohen's husband, David, who inherited her stake in the store after her death from cancer.[1][11]

It was announced on March 28, 2011 that two former employees of The Washington Post, Lissa Muscatine, and her husband, Bradley Graham, had purchased the store from Meade and David Cohen.[12] The store was reportedly sold for $2 million, although price was not the main factor in the selection of new owners.[12] Meade fully retired from work in the store on December 31, 2012.[13] Graham and Muscatine have added literary classes and trips since purchasing the store.[14][15]

Expansion

The new co-owners, Graham and Muscatine, began to look at opening branch locations soon after purchasing the store. They considered an expansion of Politics & Prose into a Georgetown location but decided against it.[14][16] In 2014, Politics and Prose announced that it would be operating satellite stores inside Busboys and Poets stores throughout the city called "Politics and Prose @ Busboys and Poets".[15] In May 2017, Politics & Prose announced that they would be opening a new branch at Union Market in the fall of 2017.[17] Politics & Prose announced plans for a third location to open in October 2017 at The Wharf, a new development at the Southwest Waterfront.[18]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Politics and Prose was required to shut down by city officials as part of Washington, D.C.'s shutdown. The store was one of the first six inside D.C. that was allowed to re-open, as part of a pilot program allowing curbside sales for independently owned stores from Mayor Muriel Bowser's Educational and Academic Retail Shops pilot.[19] The store on Connecticut Avenue re-opened, while mandating that only 30 customers could enter the store at one time, and with plexiglass placed to protect workers.[20]

Services and reputation


A crowd listens to a book reading at the store.

Politics and Prose has a reputation for staff who are able to recommend books to customers.[1] The 14,000 square foot space contains an Espresso Book Machine for on-demand printing of self-published and out-of-print books and a cafe on the first floor of the building called "Modern Times" in addition to space for books.[1][3][21][22] A Washington Post review of the cafe in 2006 reacted favorably to changes to the menu.[22]

The store is famous for its author events, in which writers usually read an excerpt from their book and take questions from the audience.[23] The Washington Post notes that as the talks gained prominence and the store grew more popular, Cohen and Meade, the original co-owners, "became known as literary tastemakers".[1] C-SPAN broadcasts around five of the talks a month, and the store has gained a reputation for having astute and smart audiences present at readings.[8][23] Famous readers at its author events have included politicians such as Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, UK statesman Boris Johnson, and former Senator Edward Brooke, as well as authors J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie, and Amy Chua, photographer Annie Leibovitz, and investigative reporter David Halberstam.[23][24][25][26][27] Cohen in the past refused to allow prominent writers to appear in the store, such as Matt Drudge, ostensibly because of their conservative leanings.[1][28]

Politics and Prose is often seen to be an important stop for authors publicizing their work and is regarded as being a significant part of DC culture.[8][23] New owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine were ranked #50 on GQ's "The 50 Most Powerful People in Washington" because of their purchase of Politics and Prose, describing the store as "...liberal Washington's most sacred space."[29] The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg commented on the unusually intelligent questions from the audience at readings, and Slate's editor in 2007, said: "If there's one bookstore in the city you want to read in, it's obviously the place."[23][30]

References


  1. Brown, Emma (October 11, 2010). "Carla Cohen dies; co-founder of D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on February 19, 2014. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  2. Parker, Ashley (October 11, 2010). "Carla Cohen, Owner of Washington Bookstore, Dies at 74". New York Times. Archived from the original on October 12, 2010. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  3. Douglas, Danielle (December 13, 2010). "Politics and Prose continues search for new owner". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 8, 2014. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  4. Berg, Scott (April 30, 2004). "The Inside Scoop". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on September 24, 2018. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  5. Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A. (March 21, 2005). "Succession Plot At Bookstore Took A Surprise Twist". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on April 4, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  6. Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A. (April 29, 2006). "A Year Later, Bookstore Owners Drop Plans to Sell Their Business". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on April 4, 2015. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  7. Petty, Erin (June 10, 2010). "Response to Sale of Politics and Prose: Preserving a Local Literary Icon". Washington City Paper. Archived from the original on June 12, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  8. Rosenwald, Michael S. (June 10, 2010). "With sale of D.C.'s Politics and Prose, a bookstore's legacy is up for grabs". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 20, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  9. Hagey, Keach (June 22, 2010). "Bookstore in Capital Seeks Its Next Chapter". New York Times. Archived from the original on June 28, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  10. Hagey, Keach (December 13, 2010). "Foer, Goldberg among Politics & Prose suitors". Politico. Archived from the original on December 20, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  11. Anderson, Tom (October 29, 2010). "Politics and Prose's Social Network". Washington City Paper. Archived from the original on January 19, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  12. Rosenwald, Michael S. (March 28, 2011). "Politics and Prose has found a buyer". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 6, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  13. "Barbara Meade Retires from P&P". Publishers Weekly. January 10, 2013. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  14. Joynt, Carol Ross (September 16, 2013). "Politics & Prose Bookstore Is Considering Opening a Second Location". The Washingtonian. Archived from the original on September 20, 2013. Retrieved October 6, 2013.
  15. Charles, Ron (November 6, 2014). "Politics and Prose will open satellite stores in Busboys and Poets restaurants". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on December 23, 2016. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
  16. O'Connell, Jonathan (September 18, 2013). "Politics & Prose owners mulling expansion to Georgetown". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 10, 2015. Retrieved October 6, 2013.
  17. Clabaugh, Jeff (May 30, 2017). "Politics and Prose opening Union Market location". WTOP. Archived from the original on May 30, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2017.
  18. Clabaugh, Jeff (August 9, 2017). "Politics and Prose to open bookstore at The Wharf". WTOP. Archived from the original on August 21, 2017. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  19. Segraves, Mark; Crummy, Brianna (May 18, 2020). "Six DC Stores Given Go-Ahead to Reopen Under New Pilot Program". NBC4 Washington. Archived from the original on May 25, 2020. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  20. Berlin, Marlene (July 9, 2020). "What it's like at the reopened Politics and Prose". Forest Hills Connection. Archived from the original on 2020-07-18. Retrieved 2020-07-18.
  21. Anderson, Stacy A. (July 11, 2002). "Independent bookstores embrace digital publishing". The Washington Times. Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 19, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  22. Rapuano, Rina (July 26, 2006). "Modern Times/Politics and Prose review". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 10, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  23. Grim, Ryan (February 28, 2007). "The Politics of Politics and Prose". Politico. Archived from the original on September 23, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  24. Hennessey, Kathleen (November 30, 2013). "Obama buys spy novel, kids' books on shopping trip". MSN News. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  25. Clemetson, Lynette (February 21, 2007). "A Senator's Ambitious Path Through Race and Politics". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 19, 2012. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  26. Kellogg, Carolyn (October 11, 2010). "Politics and Prose's Carla Cohen has died". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 23, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  27. Hesse, Monica (February 21, 2011). "'Tiger Mother' author faces a tough crowd at Politics and Prose". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  28. "Drudge Banned in D.C.; Politics & Prose Bookstore Calls Internet Reporter 'Dangerous', Will Not Open Doors". Drudge Report. September 12, 2000. Archived from the original on February 13, 2004. Retrieved July 24, 2012.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  29. Cherlin, Reid; Fischer, Rob; Horowitz, Jason; Zengerle, Jason (February 2012). "The 50 Most Powerful People in Washington". GQ. Archived from the original on October 5, 2013. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  30. Hertzberg, Hendrik (June 9, 2010). "Politics and Prose and Perfection and (I hope) Permanence". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on July 11, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2012.