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Kramerbooks will stay in Dupont Circle for at least three years, owner says

Kramersbooks & Afterwords in Dupont Circle will stay in the Dupont Circle area for at least three years. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Dupont Circle’s beloved Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe will stay in its current location for at least three more years, owner Steve Salis said Thursday, allaying the wave of grief and nostalgia that swept through the neighborhood after he had earlier announced his intent to move the store.

“We are not imminently leaving tomorrow,” he said. “We will most likely be there for six years, and just to be clear, that is when our lease ends. But we will leave no sooner than three years.”

Despite reports in May that he intended to move the storefront, Salis said he never planned to leave the current location this year.

But his short-term vision for the store has changed, thanks in part to the outpouring of support for Kramerbooks after fears that it would soon disappear from Dupont. Over the past three months, Salis said, he has doubled down on his commitment to the Dupont Circle location by launching initiatives aimed at refurbishing and expanding the shop.

“It really just hit me like wow,” Salis said of the support he received and the resonance the shop has across the world.

“I got to a place where I said, ‘We need to do something because when people come back, I want them to feel a sense of excitement and rejuvenation.’ ”

Advocates hope to keep Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle

His decision to proceed with renovations to the 44-year-old bookshop is also motivated by updates to a long-drawn-out legal battle and sputtering business amid the pandemic. For years, Salis had been involved in a dispute with one of his three landlords, who blocked renovations he      requested      as    part  of a $3 million project to transform the shop into “experiential retail.” Salis and the landlord, Pete Hiotis with Cadence Management, recently settled the dispute and established parameters for renovation.

Salis said that agreement, coupled with sustained losses in business throughout the pandemic, inspired him to take on more modest renovations than he originally envisioned. But he still plans to eventually move from the location, in part over disagreements with his landlord, but also because of the high rent and the state of business in the area pre-pandemic.

Hiotis declined to comment on the lawsuit but said he is “very happy to have Kramerbooks as a tenant and hope[s] to continue our relationship for a long time.”

Renovations are now underway at the shop’s longtime location, which will rebrand the restaurant and bar and add a breakfast bar, inspired by what had been a Kramer’s staple in the early 1980s. A new chef, Vincent Griffith, will update the menu to provide modern American food with slight French influences, and the bar’s beverage manager will overhaul all drinks. The price point of the restaurant and bar, renamed “All Day by Kramers,” will stay the same, Salis said.

Later this year, Salis plans to introduce a flower and plant shop in the northern building and a barbershop to fill an upstairs space previously used for private events.

While the historic Kramerbooks location is moving toward a modern and digital model, it is far from achieving Salis’s long-term vision for the brand. With one eye focused on updating his current storefront, he is also engaging in serious conversations about expanding Kramerbooks to other locations across the District.

After 40 years, Kramerbooks gets a (young) new owner

“We are talking to people and schematically looking at places with the intention of doing something,” he said, adding that he would make sure to maintain the “quirky” spirit of the store in all renovations and potential moves.

Laura Wyllie, 58, sat outside Kramerbooks on Thursday with french fries and a pint of beer, reading about German painter Albrecht Dürer.

“This is one of the few places where you can sit down by yourself and read a book and look normal,” she said, closing her hardcover book and glancing around the cement outdoor area, where the new renovation would soon bring greenery.

Wyllie was so devastated when she heard that Kramerbooks was moving that she drove in from Alexandria the next day to see for herself whether it was true.

“I tried not to panic,” she said. “But I have been coming here for decades and I know there is nowhere else like it.”

Joy filled her face when Wyllie learned Thursday that the shop would stay at that location for at least a few years longer. As she flipped open her book, she considered the renovations she noticed underway inside.

“Updating is always good, but this is such a classic place,” she said. “We don’t need to do too much.”