inStore: Politics and Prose, a DC Institution
InStore shares information about the independent book stores in the DC area that continue to thrive despite changes to the way we read, write, and buy books.
You may hear a lot about how difficult it is to keep an independent bookstore running in our current economical climate with online sales and e-books making it so easy to forego the bookstore experience, but running a bookstore has never been easy. Politics and Prose, a DC institution, has lasted more than 25 years because the owners know that a bookstore is not just a place to buy books.
Background: In 1984, two determined women, Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade, teamed up to open a small bookstore on Connecticut Avenue, and as The Washington Post noted, the store had gone “from a simple storefront into an institution that defined Washington’s literary scene.” Within five years they were ready to move to a larger space across the street.
While there were some initial doubts and confusion about the name, Cohen, Meade and store staff made such an impression on the community that the Politics and Prose brand is recognized across the nation and the store has become a part of DC culture.
What makes the store special: In a video created at the celebration of the store’s 25th anniversary, its founders discuss how starting a bookstore as mature women helped them get along. Cohen and Meade figured out early on that they would need to find ways to compete other than price. Rather than slashing prices, they decided to offer customers greater value with dedicated staff and events.
Events: Cohen cited her own interest in interacting with authors as the inspiration behind their events. Rather than just have signings, they wanted people to have the opportunity for discussion and readers responded enthusiastically. We take it for granted now, but when Cohen and Meade started, author events that combined an author talk with a Q&A and book signing were not as common as they are now.
There are about 475 author events each year at Politics and Prose and they are a big draw; authors and publishers push to get their authors into the store. You can show up for an author event there and find that it is packed with chairs and some people are standing. At times, in fact, their events draw such a crowd that they have to be moved to other venues. And if you can’t make it to an event, the store records most in-store events and you can listen to the podcasts on the P&P website.
In addition to giving readers a chance to dialogue with authors, the store also provides ways for people to get into smaller group discussions to connect with others and talk about books. The store sponsors twenty different book groups, offers classes on a broad array of literary and cultural topics, and is expanding its offerings of trips.
Technology: Even though e-readers and online forums are changing the way we read, Politics and Prose recognizes that people not only still want paper books, they also want to have more say in what books are available. The store helps its customers get into the publishing game with a print-on-demand machine. Whether you are an aspiring author or a group who wants to print a collection of recipes, in just minutes, you can have a quality paperback book in your hands. For those in search of ebooks or the convenience of ordering physical books on-line, both services are available through P&P.
New Owners: When it was announced that the store would be sold, publishers, authors and Washington area readers waited anxiously to hear that this beloved bookstore would continue to be a community gathering place. There was a sigh of relief when it was announced that Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine would be the new owners. Both are former Washington Post journalists; however, Muscatine spent the bulk of her career in politics and government.
From its early days going up against the dominant chain bookstore at the time to its current existence as a bookstore and coffee shop in the internet age, Politics and Prose continues to be an important DC presence.