Using nostalgia to guide one’s thinking can be dangerous, but ignoring the emotion is also a fool’s errand. Trump’s call for a return to a mythical, monochromatic 1950s America resonated with a solid minority of Americans. I noted earlier this week that one appeal of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” was that it harked back to a more benevolent era in the United States. And after two months of social distancing, it is even possible to understand the reckless behavior by some Americans to reclaim a social life that would have been possible three months ago.
All of this is to say that Kramerbooks, a Dupont Circle fixture for close to a half-century, is moving on and I am distraught.
According to Washington Business Journal’s Alex Koma, “Kramerbooks owner Steve Salis says he’s ready to move the hybrid bookshop-cafe out of its Dupont Circle home. He doesn’t have a new location to announce yet, but this would mark the end of Kramer’s 44-year run in the neighborhood.” So while the bookstore will live on, it will not live on in its current locale.
For those readers who simply one-click on Amazon to order books, this kind of departure is meaningless. There are enough fans of independent bookstores, however, to appreciate the loss. This is particularly true for Kramerbooks. Its front sections of recently released nonfiction books were always worth a perusal. If memory serves, Kramerbooks is where I first encountered Max Brooks’s “World War Z.” Seeing “The Ideas Industry” for sale there was a huge rush.
The books were very good; the people-watching was even better. As The Post’s Fritz Hahn noted just two years ago, “generations of Washingtonians have spent first or second dates browsing the shelves and getting to know each other over drinks and snacks at the in-house cafe.” My occasional co-author Henry Farrell confirmed this assessment, tweeting on Tuesday, “it was fascinating to watch the evening mating rituals of young unmarried professionals in Kramerbooks, sedulously leafing through books chosen for display rather than interest, while glancing around to survey the possible options.”
A quarter-century ago I was one of those young unmarrieds. I lived near Dupont for a summer during an era when Dupont was the trendy place for younglings to live, eat and drink. It was my first real paying job in which I was doing something I was trained to do. The whole idea of having enough money for a book and dessert at Afterwords was thrilling. My best dates always included a stop at Kramerbooks.
I only lived in Washington for a brief spell, but in the decades since Kramerbooks was always my focal point for meeting friends and colleagues.
There are plenty of other good bookstores in the District. Kramerbooks will emerge somewhere else. This is a minor tragedy compared to the rest of 2020. But for my generational cohort of D.C. denizens, this news will sting more with the passing of another piece of emotional topography.