Monday, July 18, 2011

Bookstores Gone

In the third of a century I have lived in Washington, DC, I have seen many bookstores go out of business. One or two that are still here astonish and gratify me with their persistence. In alphabetical order, and with something I remember buying from them (generally a small sample of what I bought), a few of the now gone:
  1. Bonifant Books, in Wheaton Triangle. I believe that it was started by one or more of the dealers from Imagination Books in Silver Spring. It closed about 2007. I found a bilingual edition of the Rule of St. Benedict there.
  2. Calliope, in Cleveland Park. It flourished in the early 1980s, and  was replaced by a video outlet, I think. I know I bought a volume of John Montague's poetry, and am fairly sure I bought J.V. Cunningham's Collected Poems there.
  3. Chapters, downtown. It began on the 1600 block of I St. NW, then moved a block north and east to K St., and made its last stand on 11 St. NW between Pennsylvania Avenue and E St. I bought quite a few books from them between say 1985 and 2008, the slimmest perhaps Joyce Cary's War Among the Bobotes, certainly the fattest Roy Jenkins's wonderful biography of Gladstone.
  4. Columbia Bookstore, Cleveland Park and Georgetown. It had an upstairs room on Connecticut Ave., then one on Wisconsin Ave. At the Cleveland Park location, I bought a two-volume edition of the correspondence of Adams and Jefferson.  At the Georgetown location, Jacques Barzun's The American University.
  5. Foreign Language Books, in Georgetown, I think in a rowhouse on Dumbarton St., vanished in the early 1980s. I'm not sure whether the store that hangs on north of Tenley Circle is a descendant or not.
  6. Georgetown Books, in Georgetown, then in Bethesda till about 2008. I deeply regret not dropping $100 on a facsimile of Johnson's dictionary there about 1985. I did buy a number of books there over the years, including a paperback Roman Journal when it was in Bethesda, and I think Johnson's Lives of the Poets in Georgetown.
  7. Globe Books, downtown. Globe was on 17th St. NW, opposite the Old Executive Office Building. There is a sandwich shop there now. I believe I bought a paperback of James Webb's Fields of Fire there.
  8. Imagination Books, Silver Spring on Sligo Avenue. It was a consortium of several independent dealers and closed in 1992.. One year when there was a sale on I bought the WPA Washington: City and Capital, with map.
  9. Olsson's, various locations: Georgetown, downtown, "Penn Quarter", Alexandria. Before Borders came to Washington, Olsson's was much the biggest store, so I bought many books there. It closed in 2008.
  10. The Trover Store, various locations downtown. The Trover Stores had the peculiarity, at least for a while, of shelving books within a section by publisher. It must have made inventory easier in some ways, but as a customer I thought it confusing. From the sale when it went out of business I bought a Don Quixote and a Rob Roy.
Then there are the ones with names that escape me. The used bookstore about where Pennsylvania bends into M St., where I coveted but did not buy a battered Malone edition of Shakespeare; the store on M St. almost to Key Bridge; the one on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington across from the old Sears; no doubt a couple at least on Capitol Hill.

Let me add that
  1. Chapters lives on not as bookstore but as the Chapters Literary Society, which you can find on Facebook.
  2. One of the dealers from the old Imagination Books run Silver Spring Books, on Bonifant St. in Silver Spring, between Georgia Avenue and Fenton St. (It is conveniently located across from the Thai Derm restaurant, if book shopping builds your appetite.)
  3. I could add Borders, which will be going out of business shortly.


  1. Miserable - there is a bookshop in Chelsea in London called John Sandoe that I love: provided it does not close, I refuse to despair entirely about the book trade.

  2. Washington does, as I said, have a number of good bookstores that are still in business and apparently doing well. The ones that seem most secure have a solid and recognizable base of customers. Kramerbooks at Dupont Circle has largely the young and hip; Politics and Prose say three miles farther out Connecticut Avenue has the settled residents of Chevy Chase and their children.

  3. For what it's worth, I just learned that the D.C. Chevy Chase Library now has a Friends of the Library Bookstore open in the afternoons. It doesn't sound very large, at least not yet, but it may be worth checking out.

  4. If you have errands up towards Wheaton, the Montgomery County library at Georgia and Arcola has (or had) a lot of its lower flower given to a used store...