Spectacle has always been a part of savvy bookselling. “It’s not like a book’s ending is any better if you buy it at Politics and Prose or pick it up off a skid at Costco,” says Teicher of the American Booksellers Association, justifying the need for stores to do more than sell books. He remembers that Politics and Prose used to hawk book-themed trips to customers. Other indies are hosting summer literary day camp for kids. Read All Over, a stage and independent bookstore in Fredericksburg, Va., recently had punk-rock bands perform in front of displays of the Curious George children’s book series and etiquette guides. “The event was a success,” says proprietor Paul Cymrot, who also owns used bookstore Riverby Books in Fredericksburg and Capitol Hill, which frequently has musicians play outside its storefronts.
Shallal is not interested in buying Politics and Prose. He hopes the new owners wouldn’t change a thing. “It’s an institution in this city and must be preserved,” he says.
Politics and Prose has planned a memorial for Carla Cohen on Nov. 21. But discussions about the store’s future have already started again. Meade and Goldberg huddled with Cohen’s husband and son on Oct. 22 to discuss what happens next. They agreed to schedule in-person meetings with the finalists and exchange financial information with them. “The earliest the process could be completed is the spring, but that is not a deadline,” David Cohen says. It’s harder to conduct the owner search during the holiday season, Aaron Cohen says, which is the busiest time for the store. “The sale is going to be successful,” Meade says. “But I don’t know the timeframe.”
So far, there’s little sign of an exodus. Veteran staffers, such as book buyer Mark LaFramboise, plan to stay at the store if the new owners want them. There are examples of independent bookstores that changed ownership and were updated in ways that clicked. Jeff Mayersohn and his wife, Linda Seamonson, bought the independent Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., from its long-time owner in 2008. They have increased sales by adding a delivery service that brings books to customers’ homes by bicycle, and a printing press that can create a paperback book from millions of on-demand titles in about 4 minutes; they’ll soon launch an image-heavy website that tries to recreate the store’s browsing experience online.
The day Carla Cohen died I went to Politics and Prose to see if there would be any mourners assembled. I wanted to witness how the community Carla had built would react to her loss. A laminated sign announcing her death was posted on the door. The store was quiet and cozy as about a dozen customers filtered through the shop that Monday, which was Columbus Day, a federal holiday. An old, balding man in a pink dress shirt was sleeping in the overstuffed chair by the art section. A display of books about Facebook and the power of social networks was showcased in the front window. A thirty-something blonde plucked down some cash for a novel she had pulled from shelf of staff recommendations. The clerk smiled, took her money and waved goodbye as she left.