By Ron Charles
In a move to expand its retail operation and cultural offerings, Politics and Prose Bookstore will open five satellite locations in Busboys and Poets restaurants around the Washington area.
Under an arrangement announced Thursday, the venerable bookstore in Chevy Chase will stock and manage the retail book sections of all but one of the current and planned Busboys and Poets owned by entrepreneur-artist-activist Anas “Andy” Shallal. The mini-stores, staffed by P&P employees, will be marked with a sign sporting the logo: “Politics and Prose @ Busboys and Poets.” Customers will be able to get quick deliveries from the main store on Connecticut Avenue, place special orders and enjoy all their usual P&P membership discounts.
The joint arrangement evolved quickly this fall after Shallal met P&P co-owners Lissa Muscatine and Bradley Graham at a dinner hosted by a mutual friend. Both sides see strong benefits in this innovative partnership.
“I’m not a bookstore manager, but I wanted to have a bookstore,” said Shallal, who opened his first Busboys and Poets in 2005 as a restaurant that also sells books and hosts literary events. “The culture of books and authors is very much an important part of the mission of Busboys and Poets, so I started looking for a professional outfit that represents what we do.” He approached Graham and Muscatine with a proposal that would allow his restaurants to offer more books and a broader range of book events while shifting the responsibility to an organization that specializes in that business.
“We’re expanding in different quadrants of the city, and they wanted to extend their reach,” Shallal said. “This was a great opportunity that doesn’t include a huge amount of risk on their part and has an upside for us.”
The joint operation will begin at a new Busboys and Poets in Northeast Washington’s Brookland neighborhood that will open next month, and will continue in January at a new location in Takoma. By fall 2015, Politics and Prose will also have taken over responsibility for bookselling at the restaurants in Shirlington, Va.; Hyattsville, Md.; and at Fifth and K streets in Northwest Washington.
The nonprofit group Teaching for Change will continue to operate the bookstore in Busboys and Poets at 14th and V streets NW.
The financial details of the partnership have not been finalized. “This will be an ongoing collaborative dance,” Shallal said. “This is a very organic relationship that just feels right for both of us — this is New Age business.”
Graham, who bought the store with Muscatine in 2011, said, “We see a great synergy in this relationship because, in a number of ways, the bookstore’s mission and Busboys and Poets’ mission coincide. We’re all for promoting community and engaging in discussion of ideas and literature and current events.”
The additional locations around the Washington area will allow Politics & Prose to increase its already enormous calendar of readings, classes and children’s programs — currently more than 450 a year. The Busboys and Poets locations offer the extra advantage of well-equipped presentation rooms and the technology to livestream events on the Web.
Said Muscatine, “Our events staff are ecstatic because so much of their job now is saying no to authors.” She speculated that some writers will appear at multiple locations, and she promised that there would be “no cannibalizing” of existing store offerings. “Having these different-sized spaces adds hugely to the array of events that we can host and will allow more and more communities to interact with authors.”
The selection of books at each Busboys and Poets will be curated to reflect the interests of its respective community. Shallal suggested that this could include a greater emphasis on African American fiction, the environment or transportation, depending on the location.
“Our goal is to make these really wonderful, thoughtful, intentional book spaces,” Muscatine said, “with a focus connected to that community.”
This fall — for the first time — Politics and Prose was the official booksellerat the National Book Festival. Muscatine said that the store’s successful experience there made them realize just how much P&P is bound by geography. “We want to do what we do well: bring authors and books to a much wider spectrum of Washington, D.C.”
Politics and Prose has no current plans to open a branch in Georgetown, as was considered last year.
“We never anticipated this,” Muscatine said, “but when Andy presented it, it was the first time that we’ve been really excited by expanding and thought an opportunity was feasible.”