City Desk

Carla Cohen RIP

Carla Cohen, 74, the co-owner of local bookselling institution Politics and Prose, died this morning after a long battle with cancer.

Cohen had been ailing for months, so her death was not unexpected: A lengthy obit appeared on the bookstore's home page within hours of her 8 a.m. death. A report in the Washington Post soon followed. But there are no plans as yet for an in-store event to commemorate Cohen's life, says Tracey Filar Atwood, a store general manager.

It's a good bet that any such event would draw a crowd both large and devoted—even by the standards of P&P, where author events regularly draw crowds of enthusiasts. Politics and Prose, co-owned by Cohen and Barbara Meade, commands a fierce loyalty among a certain stratum of Washington's reading elite. Where other independent bookstores vanished over the past decade in the face of competition from national chains and online booksellers, P&P retained its position because it did double-duty as a regular bookseller and as a gathering place for the well-read locals who turn up for its crowded calendar of book-signings (on this week's docket: Howard Dean, Condoleezza Rice, and Michele Norris) or join one of the many book-clubs that meet in the store.

But the encomia would also likely come wrapped in a certain anxiety: News broke in June that Cohen and Meade had put the store up for sale. Cohen's illness made P&P sources especially reticent about discussing the sale or possible buyers. With her death, the process could gain some steam. The store has recently seen its local market position challenged by comparative newcomers like Busboys and Poets, which boasts a central location and a set-up that's better suited to event-driven bookselling. In the event of a sale, loyalists will likely scrutinize any new owners to make sure they reflect Cohen's values.

New owners, for their part, would do well to promise never-ending fealty to Cohen's legacy. After all, the largest chunk of their investment in the store will not come because its inventory is that large or its Connecticut Avenue storefront is that appealing. It'll involve buying access to the network of loyal customers Cohen and Meade painstakingly developed.

Which, in the end, is the best of all tributes to Carla Cohen.

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