Trover Shop Bookstore Closing on Capitol Hill After 51 Years

By Kate Kilpatrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bookstore enthusiasts walking along Pennsylvania Avenue during lunch break yesterday were confronted with sobering news: After 51 years in business on Capitol Hill, Trover Shop is closing.

Bright-orange fliers announcing 20 percent off merchandise were taped around the shop before the 7 a.m. opening. In the window, a letter began: "It is with great sadness that we inform you of our plans to close our Capitol Hill location, but given the current economic climate and the changes in our industry, we are faced with no other viable option."

"Oh, my goodness gracious. It's been here forever," said customer Annette Alsop, who was flipping through a magazine when she spotted the going-out-of-business signs. "I didn't even notice. I'm stunned."

Customers and employees reminisced yesterday about the boldface names who had visited Trover for book signings -- Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, Barbara Walters and Larry King, to name a few -- or simply to pick up a good read.

Books stacked thigh-high propped open the door of a cramped back office where co-owner Andy Shuman was trying not to get emotional. He and brothers Al and Steve had happily taken over the business from their father.

"It's tough. It's our whole life," he said. "This is something my dad took a lot of pride in. He worked six days a week all his life."

Several years ago, Shuman says, the family owned five Trover Shops in town. After the closing of the store at 221 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (Shuman estimates four to six weeks to clear out the merchandise), they'll be down to one: Trover Shop at 13th and F NW, which sells cards and gifts. No books.

Eighty-one-year-old Joe Shuman opened the original Trover Shop in 1958 -- back when, he says, the New York Times Sunday edition cost a mere quarter. On the phone from his home in Rockville, Joe Shuman had trouble remembering some of the store's famous visitors, although Vincent Price came to mind.

Although the store had many famous political visitors, Shuman was never a political man. He never gawked at his noted customers, and kept his shop nonpartisan. About the end of the Trover era he built, Shuman was wistful: "I had some wonderful years there. . . . It was a pleasure to work with the people on Capitol Hill."

While the Shuman brothers' thoughts were on their disappointed parents, customers wondered aloud where they would shop now.

"When we need our congressional directories, where will we go next year?" asked Richard Healing, a senior partner at R{+3} Consulting. Trover "is like a watering hole, an oasis for intellectual curiosity."

Curtis Copeland, who was purchasing two Disney World travel books in preparation for a trip with his 10-year-old granddaughter, called the closing "unfortunate."

"All the political books -- it's hard to find some of these elsewhere," he said. "And they're totally nonpartisan -- left, right, center. Ann Coulter to Henry Waxman and Jesse Ventura."

David Aime, a retiree from Springfield, was doing research at the Library of Congress when he stepped into Trover, purchased a chocolate bar and browsed the shelves. For him, the closing of the family-owned business marked "a blow to civilization."

"It just breaks my heart to see a small bookstore go down the tubes," he said.

According to Andy Shuman, business at the store took a turn for the worse two years ago when a fire at a neighboring bar, the Capitol Lounge, caused a half-million dollars in damage to the Trover card shop, which was just three doors from the bookstore. The losses were so extensive they closed the card shop and combined its merchandise with the bookstore. Now, with the economy in a slump and online booksellers chipping away at the customer base, Shuman says the store's time is up.

"We don't want to see it go, but unfortunately with the way the industry's going and other stores closing, we'd rather be on our own terms than someone else's terms," he said. The brothers wanted to avoid bankruptcy and pay off their bills "so we can walk away with our heads held high instead of with our heads between our legs."

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