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Former Kramerbooks managers to open new bookstore on H Street NE

Solid State Books is scheduled to open this fall. (Solid State Books)

Two longtime Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe managers, who left earlier this year over disputes with the new owner, are opening their own bookstore-and-cafe in Northeast Washington.

Solid State Books will open this fall on H Street NE, in the Apollo building where the new Whole Foods Market is located, according to co-owner Jake Cumsky-Whitlock. He and Scott Abel signed the lease on the building earlier this week.

“This area is perfect for a bookstore,” said Cumsky-Whitlock, who until February was the head buyer for Kramerbooks, the Dupont Circle institution. “There are so many families, children and young people, and yet there’s a giant hole when it comes to books.”

The 4,300-square-foot store will have an events space with seating for up to 100, as well as a small cafe with pastries, coffee, beer and wine. But, Cumsky-Whitlock said, books will be the main attraction.

“It’ll be 95 percent books,” he said. “Books are what we know, and that’s first and foremost what we’ll be concentrating on.”

He and Abel, the former general manager of Kramerbooks, met at the Dupont Circle bookstore in the early 2000s. Stephanie Hess, who used to be an assistant buyer for the store, is also helping with Solid State Books. All three left Kramerbooks in February, after employees complained of clashes with Steve Salis, the co-founder of local chain &pizza, who took over the 40-year-old bookstore late last year.

Management team at Kramerbooks quits as new owner’s changes take hold

Since then, Cumsky-Whitlock and Abel have been working to secure about $600,000 in funds for their new store. They took out a bank loan for about half of their expenses, and raise the rest of the money from friends and community members, who contributed between $1,000 and $25,000 each to the bookstore. The co-owners will pay them back over the next six years.

“This was a great way to get people involved, to have them buy into the store” Cumsky-Whitlock said, adding that he borrowed the idea from the owners of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn.

Solid State Books will offer a range of books, including a large children’s section with a regular story hour, its owners said. They also plan to host discussion groups, book signings and other events.

“D.C. is such a literate town, and even though we have a number of great bookstores, it’s still a very underserved market,” Cumsky-Whitlock said. “There are so many booming neighborhoods that don’t have a single bookstore. This our way of helping change that.”

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