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13 bookstores you should make time to check out this fallUpshur Street Books brightens the District's already thriving indie book scene

Upshur Street Books in Petworth, coming soon

Idle Time Books in Adams Morgan was visited by a Cash Mob earlier this year

Setting up for teatime at Riverby Books

Towering stacks at Capitol Hill Books

Reading break at Second Story

Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe

Sankofa Books' cafe

Bridge Street Books

Despite a decade of disruptive shifts in the publishing business, bookstores endure as centers of cultural and intellectual life for Washington bibliophiles. In recent generations a folio of beloved book shops have shut their doors, including the local chain Olsson’s in 2008 and the Trover Shop on Capitol Hill in 2009 after 51 years. Bartleby's on 29th Street in Georgetown closed in 2011 after having a presence in the greater metropolitan area for 27 years.
With the just-opened Upshur Street Books in Petworth, the city’s literary pulse is getting an injection of new lifeblood.
Technology has vanquished entire industries and bankrupted Blockbuster and Eastman Kodak, but e-readers have not yet doomed independent bookstores. In fact, according to the American Booksellers Association, the number of member independent bookstores has increased more than 20 percent, from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,094 in 2014.
Notwithstanding the health of Washington’s bookish community, the entire swath of land east of the Anacostia River, populated by nearly 150,000 people, is only served by the city's public library system. The last general-interest bookstore east of the river closed more than 20 years ago, making Wards 7 and Ward 8 a book desert (though a hypothetical Busboys and Poets location in historic Anacostia could go some ways to remedying that).
Here’s a brief look at some of the city’s most notable bookstores. Scroll to the bottom to find our map.

Bridge Street Books
2814 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
M-Th, 11:00am – 9:00 pm, Fri – Sat, 11:00am – 10:00pm, Sun 12:00pm – 6:00pm

Along a road that pre-dates the capital city sits Bridge Street Books. Its tables have been casually passed and browsed by tens of thousands of Washingtonians who, since 1980, have walked back and forth over the M Street Bridge.

Bridge Street is where you go to discover titles such as The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps, the three volume Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci or the true story of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much.
Bridge Street Books is priced more for the erudite city professional than the struggling bohemian, but as the bookseller behind the front desk remarked on a recent visit, “Bohemians will find books here they can’t find anywhere else.”
Selling primarily hardbacks (with a small selection of paperbacks, including a run of Akashic’s popular Noir series), a haul from Bridge Street can easily run upwards of $100, but a dollar spent on a book is, without equivocation, one of the smartest ways to spend a dollar.

Capitol Hill Books
657 C Street SE
M-F, 11:30 am to 6:00 pm, Sat-Sun, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
(Closed July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day) 

Retired United States Navy Rear Admiral Jim Toole’s raspy greeting, as you enter his literary sanctum of more than 40,000 used books stacked floor to ceiling, has been the first act of hospitality extended to hundreds of young men and women who descend upon Washington from all over the world to jumpstart their careers. A group of these former Washington newbies turned Washington insiders now gather monthly to toast Jim.
Jim remembers to ask after one’s ailing relative or how their latest job search is progressing. He has been known to give neighborhood kids their first work experience. A group of former store employees formed a professional moving company a couple of years back in preparation to take ownership of the store when Toole is finally ready to resign his commission working 90 hours a week as the gruffest and most treasured of Washington City booksellers.

Toole isn’t going anywhere just yet. “Non-fiction first floor, fiction upstairs. Many exceptions. Watch your head if you venture into the basement. And by the way, turn off that cell phone. This is a book store, not a damned phone booth,” said Toole on a recent weekend without looking up.
While Capitol Hill Books may be “famous for being famous,” as a member of the staff recently said, it is an institution of nothing less than legendary and mythic proportions ---- all due to its proprietor.

Idle Time Books
2467 18th Street NW
Open 11am - 10pm every day.

On Adams Morgan’s festive nerve center sits a respite for those who prefer the quiet book life to the bar life.
Idle Time, which has been open since 1981, has a significant collection of literary criticism, books on books, black studies, cultural studies, journalism memoirs, fiction, sociology, European history and esoteric books such as Edgar Marquees Branch’s A Paris Year. Near the front of the store is a collection of antiquarian books (some with uncut pages, as I learned years ago after buying Thomas Beer’s 1923 book on Stephen Crane), and Idle Time's vintage Life magazines and arts books are always worth a look.

Kramer Books & Afterwords Café & Grill
1517 Connecticut Avenue NW
Sun-Th, 7:30am – 1am, Fri-Sat, open 24 hours

Open all night Fridays and Saturdays, Kramer Books, open since 1976, is the only city bookstore for insomniacs; earning it a special distinction.

Kramer offers a selection of technology and political affairs magazines, the latest travel guides, new releases, and books you should have already read to be acquainted in all manner of Washington policy. Kramer is not just a bookstore, of course: its attached café serves "lattes to the literati" and offers a full menu for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.

Politics & Prose: Bookstore & Coffeehouse
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW
M – Sat, 9 am – 10pm, Sun, 10am – 8pm

At the age of 19 I rented a basement apartment just off Connecticut Avenue, a couple of blocks north of Politics & Prose. I never tried to get a job there (as a number of writers have, including George Pelecanos), but I spent my free time reading through their magazine collection and latest non-fiction releases. I was treated well by a staff that was always kind and welcoming despite my leaving empty-handed after hours of reading. Nearly a decade later I had the surreal experience of co-founder Barbara Meade introducing me for my first book talk.
I share this personal anecdote because, more so than any of its peers, Politics & Prose exists as both a local and national bookstore for authors and working writers. In the past three years P&P has been sold to new management (who have diversified the store’s portfolio to include local tours and literary travel packages), added an Espresso Book Printing Machine that can print and bind an entire book in ten minutes, and launched its own anthology.
Washington is as much a city for journalists, writers and historians as it is for lobbyists, lawyers, consultants and public servants. The foundation of the city’s modern literary reputation was laid by the storied P&P when, in 1984, it began its unique tradition of hosting author talks with cartoonist Herblock. The rest, as they say, has been a glorious history, written anew each day with another author talk and audience question and answer.

Riverby Books
417 East Capitol Street SE
10am – 6pm every day  

A couple blocks from the Capitol Dome, a small fountain bubbles water year-round, inviting passersby to venture inside Riverby Books, a fixture on Capitol Hill for the last 15 years.

Riverby has a robust collection of Washingtoniana materials, from old guidebooks to monographs to the memoirs of leading figures from all eras of history. Government reports and back issues of Harper’s Weekly focusing on Washington society can be found for bargain prices— half what you’d pay online.
Known for offering customers an afternoon tea or coffee, Riverby has the feel of a bookshop you might find in the British countryside. In contrast to the book avalanches that threaten to envelop customers whole at nearby Capitol Hill Books, the materials at Riverby are tidy and well-organized, including a selection of children’s books in the basement.

Sankofa Videos Books & Café
2714 Georgia Ave NW
Hours vary

On a recent visit to Sankofa Video and Books, a presence on Georgia Avenue just above Howard University since 1997, peoples of the African diaspora carry on a conversation in three corners in three languages. This is the bookstore of Chocolate City, permeated with books and films that explore and celebrate black consciousness and community activism locally and internationally. This is where James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye compete for shelf space with new releases such as MIT Professor Craig Steven Widner’s Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America’s Universities

According to its website, Sankofa “has become a liberated zone or sanctuary for provocative black film and literature, that is all too rare around the country … attract[ing] the hungry and the inquisitive sojourner.”

Second Story Books
2000 P Street NW
10am – 10pm every day

For antiquarian bibliophiles with deep pockets, Second Story is the only place left in Washington where a document signed by President Abraham Lincoln is yours for the right price.

Stocked with old movie posters, 19th-century prints, maps, CDs, and signed first editions, Second Story’s prices for most used and out-of-print books range from $10 to $100. This is a true collector’s depot for those building their personal libraries in local history, black studies, sociology and world history.

Upshur Street Books
827 Upshur Street NW
Tues – Th, 12 noon – 8pm, Fri – Sat, 12 noon – 9pm, Sun, 11am – 7pm

With approximately 4,000 books lining the shelves, Upshur Street Books is the city's newest and leanest literary space.
It's restaurateur Paul Ruppert's latest venture, conceived after the success of the reading room and lending library at Ruppert's next-door Petworth Citizen. The store's Kickstarter campaign raised $20,000 from more than 350 supporters.

Managing the store is Anna Thorn, a former bookseller and program coordinator with Politics & Prose who lives in Petworth. “Amazon is always looming but it is just a provider of books," she says. "A living, breathing book culture needs more than that to exist and thrive. This is where books will meet the customers.”
Offering literary fiction, graphic novels, zines, children’s books, poetry, art books, and featuring local authors, Thorn says the store “will be plugged into what is happening in the literary city.”
“People have been keeping their eye on us, waiting for us to open. There’s a culture that exists in Petworth that gives us faith in the success of the store.”
A few more shops also worth a visit:
The Lantern (Georgetown)
Books For America (Dupont Circle)
National Building Museum Shop (Chinatown)
Howard University Bookstore (Pleasant Plains - Shaw)

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