Politics & Prose Bookstore Is Considering Opening a Second Location

One possible location is the vacant Georgetown Theater building.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

Politics & Prose, the popular upper Northwest* bookstore that has made a name for itself with often news-making “author talks,” is considering opening its first branch store in Georgetown. “We were approached recently by a group who are very interested in having us open a branch in Georgetown. We’re definitely interested,” Bradley Graham confirmed to Washingtonian. He and Lissa Muscatine are co-owners of Politics & Prose; they purchased the store from its original owners two years ago.

The location under consideration, Graham says, is the old Georgetown Theater building, which has been empty since its last tenant—the National Jewel Center—vacated the space two years ago. It is listed for $4 million, down a couple of million from its listed price of a few years ago. It is on busy Wisconsin Avenue between the cross streets of O and Dumbarton. While Georgetown has the boutique-size Bridge Street Books on Pennsylvania Avenue next to the Four Seasons Hotel, and a couple of resellers, there has been a void since the closing of Barnes & Noble’s M Street location in December 2011—it was replaced by a Nike store—and the closing of Olsson’s Books in 2008. 

“We’re very mindful of the past history of bookstores in Georgetown,” Graham says. “We want to be very sure before opening a branch there that the financial risks would be worth it.” He says that over the years there have been a number of occasions when realtors, developers, and “other interested parties” approached P&P about opening a branch. “We looked at locations,” he says—but that’s as far as it went. “What makes the Georgetown proposal more attractive is the strength of community interest and the suggestion they would be able to raise the necessary funds to purchase the property and renovate.”

The group that has organized to try to make this endeavor happen includes Joe Sternlieb, CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, and several residents of the community. Sternlieb says the theater location is not a lock, and that the building’s owners “are sitting on an offer” from his group, but in the meantime the group is continuing to consider alternative buildings in Georgetown. Sternlieb says price and terms are critical issues and will determine where the proposed store makes a home. The group has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

Graham says business is good at Politics & Prose and that he and Muscatine have undertaken a number of initiatives in the store. “We’ve added many more literary classes and literary trips near and far, including this past summer to Paris and one coming up this fall to Tuscany,” he says. They also added a book printing machine to allow customers to self-publish and to access out of print books. 

According to Graham, “One of the central features of our store here is this incredible array of authors” who appear at the store’s author talks. “We have a talk virtually every night of the year except the holiday season in December, when the store is just too jam-packed,” he says.

Whether author talks would continue at the same pace in a Georgetown store is still to be decided. “We don’t think we could create exactly the same kind of store in Georgetown that we have here,” Graham says. “It would be smaller. We do think one of the key elements of success of P&P is its rootedness in the community. Georgetown would also have a big community element.” The store would likely also benefit from the nearby Georgetown University and George Washington University. Graham says the proposed store would include “some kind of coffeehouse and classroom offerings as well as book talks.” 

*This post has been updated from a previous version.