Interview with a Bookstore: Kramerbooks & Afterwords
In Which a Bookstore Compares Itself to a Hyena
Kramerbooks & Afterwords first opened its doors amid the bicentennial celebrations of 1976, and at the time was the first bookstore/cafe in Washington D.C. Over the years, through expansions, subpoenas, and innumerable neighborhood changes, business has remained constant, thanks largely to an ongoing commitment to two fundamental joys in life: books and food. In addition to a lively, convivial atmosphere, and a full-service bar, Kramerbooks & Afterwords stages hundreds of book-related events each year, both in the store and elsewhere.
What’s your favorite section in the store?
Sarah Baline (events director): I love our fiction section. It takes up a whole wall in the main room of the store and no matter how often I go to shelve, or to find a book for a customer, I always see something new to add to the ever-growing TBR pile.
Scott Abel (general manager): Middle East History is my favorite. I studied abroad in Morocco and I continue to find the region endlessly fascinating.
Stephanie Hess (assistant buyer): Kids books! I have twelve (12!) nieces and nephews so I shop that section a lot.
Jake Cumsky-Whitlock (head buyer): Our Cookbook sections. They are full of big, beautiful, functional books.
David Tenney (owner): The doors.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
Stephanie: An infinity pool.
Sarah: A dedicated event space!
Jake: More space for children’s books.
Scott: A napping couch or, better yet, a napping hammock.
David: Fewer doors.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
Jake: We have a full-service bar and restaurant. Not too many bookstores can say that.
Sarah: Our long hours (7:30-1AM Sunday to Thursday, 7:30-4:00AM Friday and Saturday) really set us apart.
Who’s your favorite regular?
Sarah: A young woman who stops in while she’s waiting for the bus after school. She’s a voracious reader of YA and it’s always a fun challenge to find something new for her.
Jake: One of our many engaged and intelligent customers is a quiet guy who comes in most days. He works for an art gallery near the store, and is always interested in the latest nonfiction releases.
Scott: The President of the Dominican Republic. No joke!
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
Scott: In an effort to retrieve a stolen James Patterson book, I may have inadvertently broken the guy’s nose with it.
David: A man’s colostomy bag broke in the store.
Jake: The President coming to shop with his daughters, and the Secret Service securing the premises was pretty unforgettable.
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
Sarah: I have very fond memories of visiting Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard with my family.
Jake: I shopped at the New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton, Massachusetts growing up. It was (and still is) a labyrinthine warehouse stuffed with long, dimly lit aisles full of books. Incongruously, it was (and no longer is) organized by publisher, so in order to find a particular book, you had to first look it up in a large phone book-like directory at the front of the store, and then determine where in the massive store that publisher’s books were stocked. Needless to say, it was always easier to simply dive in without purpose.
David: Bookstores didn’t exist when I was a child.
If you weren’t running/working at a bookstore what would you be doing?
Sarah: Reading all day? Am I a kept woman in this scenario? Right now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Scott: Loving the doughnuts too much.
Stephanie: Running my letterpress printing company, Typecase Industries!
Jake: Probably playing shortstop for a Major League Baseball club.
Bonus: Answers to questions we didn't ask.
If your bookstore were an animal, what animal would it be?
What color would it be?
Store theme song?
“Jane” by Starship or “Shake it Off” by Tay-Tay, depending on the day.
Your store is a cocktail. Which one?
Just make it brown.
Which neighborhood stores do you miss?
Melody Records, Olsson’s Books and Music, Lambda Rising.
SLIDESHOW: Kramerbooks & Afterwords Staff Recommendations