By Danielle Douglas
Monday, December 13, 2010; 3
The field of candidates vying to take over iconic independent bookstore Politics and Prose in the District is narrowing as the January deadline for bids approaches.
According to the store's owner, Barbara Meade, a flurry of offers came in following the announcement in June of plans to sell the store on Connecticut Avenue NW. Six serious bidders have emerged from the more than 50 offers made on the property.
Among them is a local consortium of investors that includes outgoing editor of the New Republic Franklin Foer; XM Satellite radio founder Hugh Panero; Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for the Atlantic; and Rafe Sagalyn, a literary agent.
Citing a nondisclosure agreement, Foer declined to go into details about the offer on the property or plans for running the store. He told the New York Times last week in a story announcing his departure from the New Republic that he frequented Politics and Prose as a child and "loves the place so much."
Bibliophiles throughout the Washington area hold the bookstore dear, which is why Meade is being very selective about who takes control. Before even considering a monetary offer, she is conducting interviews with all of the candidates to get a feel for their vision for her beloved store.
"We're looking for someone who is committed to the mission of the store as it has existed," said Meade. "We certainly have a great interest in selling to someone who has a passion for the written word." Meade has yet to put a price on the store. She has enlisted the help of New York-based consultant Richard Goldberg to help with the sale of the property.
Meade founded the bookstore 26 years ago with Carla Cohen, who died in October. The pair built a loyal following, hosting regular literary discussions and drawing a bevy of sought-after authors. Meade said the business has weathered the downturn unscathed, recording $7.5 million in sales this year, up from $3 million two years ago.
The future of bookstores, however, is cloudy at best, thanks to Amazon.com and the growing popularity of e-books. What's more, book sales nationwide have been sliding in the past two years, falling 1.8 percent from 2008 to last year.
Despite the industry's troubles, a number of local bookstores manage to stay afloat, such as Sisterspace and Books as well as Kramerbooks & Afterwords. Part of the appeal of these independent stores is their intimate connection to neighborhoods, where they often serve as meeting places and fixtures.
While Meade may not have a price in mind for Politics and Prose, the 7,500-square-foot store was last assessed at $1.3 million. Meade has no plans to retire anytime soon and says she will be available to help whoever purchases the store with the transition.
"I've committed to our customers . . . that somebody that doesn't know Carla or me could walk into the store and not know that the ownership has changed," she said.