News & Politics

Building a Bookstore

Potential buyers emerge for Politics & Prose, but does the bookstore need more than new owners?

It's no surprise that folks would want to buy Politics & Prose now that the venerable bookstore and coffeehouse—and with it, its valuable events franchise—is up for sale. But whether it's a group of literary figures, ranging from agent Raphael Sagalyn, The New Republic's Frank Foer and The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, or neighbors who love the store, the new owners might want to consider whether Politics & Prose should be preserved exactly as it is, or whether the turnover is a good time to consider making changes.

One thing to consider changing might be the location. At 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, the store is 0.9 miles from the Van Ness Metro and 0.8 miles from the Tenlytown/American University Metro. That's no problem for people who live in the neighborhood, or Washingtonians with cars, but it does mean that getting there requires a little forethought, and perhaps the inducement of a particular event.

The blogger Prince of Petworth said in an email conversation with me that, thinking wishfully, he'd like to see the store move to the 14th Street NW corridor. Currently, the only bookstore there is Busboys and Poets, and the store there is an afterthought to the cafe, a reflection of owner Andy Shallal's business model, which uses the cafes at all his outlets to subsidize book sales, which are not profitable for the micro-chain. But he acknowledged such a move was " not likely.  They've had years of success at their current location.  They always have an interesting mix of authors and a spectacular selection of books."

The selection may be good, but Deacon Maccubin thinks it could be better. The founder of now-closed Lambda Rising in Dupont Circle says the new owners should "beef up and highlight their selection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books….the LGBT community is under-served and Politics & Prose would do well to fill that void."

And in conversations I've had about the store, one other issue has come up: letting Politics & Prose's employees to form a union, should they want to. That's a big management question, and one the bidders may want to consider as they think about the profit margins they consider acceptable, and the kind of employees they want at the heart of the new operation.


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