News & Politics

How DC’s Independent Bookstores Stayed Open Throughout the Storm

Photograph by Flicker user Elvert Barnes.

The snowstorm of 2016 shut down both the DC government and Metro, but it couldn’t close Kramerbooks & Afterwords. The Dupont Circle bookstore and cafe kept its lights on all throughout the blizzard, managing to even stay open for 12 hours on Saturday while the storm was at its strongest.

“Over the years we’ve developed a reputation for being open throughout these things,” says Kramerbooks manager Scott Abel.

It wasn’t just Kramerbooks that stayed open. Other independent bookstores in DC—including Upshur Street Books, Capitol Hill Books, and Politics & Prose, plus its satellite shops in Busboys and Poets locations—were available for business too, serving as a welcome respite from both the cold and the boredom of spending a few days at home. “Folks out walking were happy to see a spot that was open,” says Lena Little, director of marketing and publicity at Politics & Prose. “We were the only ones open Saturday on that block and one of a handful on Sunday.”

Abel says Kramerbooks—which maintained a stable rotation of employees during the blizzard by putting them up at the neighboring Hotel Dupont—managed to take in a lot of business over the weekend, particularly from people who had come in to purchase newspapers and eat at Afterwords cafe. The same goes for Politics & Prose, which sold quite a few pairs of socks and gave out coffee to anyone who braved the storm.

But Capitol Hill Books owner Jim Toole only had two paying customers in the shop near Eastern Market on Saturday, a serious step down from the usual 150 to 200 sales he normally makes. Saturdays and Sundays are Toole’s best business days thanks to the weekend flea market that sets up shop nearby. “Normally I rely on Saturday and Sunday as the only days I can make money,” he says. “To have nobody coming out to the bookstore was very crushing.” 

Still, Toole was committed to staying open, less for the store’s financial well-being than for its integrity. “I advertise and advocate that I’m open every day—rain, snow, sleet, hail doesn’t make a difference,” he says. “I just wanted to make sure I lived up to my promise.”