The announcement prompted District natives, transplants and visitors to recount failed first dates, celebrations and meet-cutes. Meanwhile, Kramerbooks put out a statement to temper the District’s widespread alarm:
“Guys, we are not dead!” the shop wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. “If we do move, it won’t be for some time and we hope this gets resolved with our landlord who hates books and reading. Until then, we’re still here slanging books.”
Dupont Circle advocates caught on to the hypothetical tone and scant details of Salis’s plan, first reported in the Washington Business Journal earlier this week, and they hope to persuade Kramerbooks to stay.
Colleen Hawkinson, executive director of the Dupont Circle Business Improvement District, which has sought to revitalize the neighborhood, said she spoke with Salis last year after he mentioned the possibility of a move.
“I tried to say, ‘You’re in a prime location here,’ ” Hawkinson said, noting the hybrid cafe-bookshop’s proximity to a planned pedestrian plaza and Dupont Circle’s historic fountain and gathering place. “Here we are a year later, and they’ve managed to make it work through a pandemic. So, I don’t know how dire the situation really is over there. We would obviously love for them to stay the course and stay in Dupont Circle.”
John Falcicchio, the District’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said in a tweet that the notion of Kramerbooks leaving Dupont Circle is “troubling.” He offered to help the Dupont Circle Business Improvement District persuade Salis to stay.
This is troubling. I have talked to the @DupontCircleBID about what the options in the neighborhood might be. I also wonder if there’s a possibility of finding a location nearby — who knows maybe even partner with @DupontUndergrnd. https://t.co/pawSzvsqqb— John J. Falcicchio #StayHomeDC (@falcicchio) May 19, 2020
Salis, who declined through a spokeswoman to speak to The Washington Post, has been involved in a legal dispute with one of the business’s three landlords, who for years has objected to renovations Salis requested as part of a $3 million project he says would transform the shop into “experiential retail.”
The bookstore’s lease ends in 2026, according to the Business Journal, but Salis said he believes the business could make its move before then.
“There are a slew of landlords out there who would love to have us,” Salis told the Business Journal, casting doubts onto the future of Dupont Circle’s business environment.
His comments come as the neighborhood has lost some of its hippest restaurants and businesses to trendy, up-and-coming areas in the District and its suburbs.
“I see it a lot: Successful businesses get poached by emerging neighborhoods, developers with empty storefronts. It’s a low-risk investment when you can get a business with a proven track record and great brand to move into your new, empty building,” said Bill McLeod, executive director of nonprofit Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets. “We may not be the new, shiny, exciting neighborhood, but Dupont Circle has all these great amenities, and that’s not going to go away.”
For many, the location of Kramerbooks and its quirky layout are part of the shop’s enduring appeal.
Jordan Grossman, who is running against Jack Evans for the Ward 2 seat on the D.C. Council, remembered how he and a date stopped at the Afterwords Cafe for dessert, looking for an excuse to linger and satisfy his sweet tooth.
They looked over the menu. She asked if he wanted to share a slice of chocolate pie. He balked.
“Um, I think you should order your own,” he told her.
“Yeah, it was not the smoothest thing I could have said,” he said this week.
But it worked out. The couple, now married, welcomed their first child earlier this year. When his wife, Julie Siegel, was expecting, the couple returned to Kramerbooks to buy a maternity book.
“Kramerbooks is one of those places that makes our neighborhood and community what it is,” Grossman said. “Especially with what [the pandemic] is doing to small businesses, we need to do what we can to maintain the places that make our neighborhoods feel like our neighborhoods.”
Since it opened in 1976, Kramerbooks has been a neighborhood mainstay best known for its crammed, winding shelves and late-night menu. Musicians hunch over instruments to perform in a small loft space as customers entering the cafe through the bookstore dodge servers balancing armfuls of plates.
The store has hosted Maya Angelou, Andy Warhol, Toni Morrison and, famously, Monica Lewinsky.
Salis, who bought the business from founders Bill Kramer and David Tenney in 2016, has worked to add amenities and grow the business — a process that has not always been smooth.
In 2017, reports of employee discontent resulted in the departure of the shop’s management team, several of whom went on to found Solid State Books on H Street NE.
Moving away from a building packed with volumes of literature and decades of history might afford Salis more creative freedom in reimagining the shop, but McLeod said it could cost some of the character that made Kramerbooks what it is.
“I really hope they stay here,” he said. “They’re a landmark business. They’re an institution. They’re this place that people really feel like is part of their community, like it belongs to all of us in a way. You rarely see that with a private business. It’s special.”