Kramerbooks & Afterwords
Front entrance to Kramerbooks
|Founders||Bill Kramer, Henry Posner, David Tenney|
|Steve Salis, David Tenney (owners)|
Kramerbooks & Afterwords (also known as Kramer's) is an independent bookstore and cafe in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Since its founding in 1976 by Bill Kramer, Henry Posner, and David Tenney, Kramer's has become a local institution and meeting place for neighborhood residents, authors, and politicians. It was one of the first bookstores in the country to feature a cafe which influenced similar business models nationwide. Notable people that have visited Kramer's include Barack Obama, Andy Warhol, Maya Angelou, and Monica Lewinsky, whose purchases at the bookstore attracted national attention during the Lewinsky scandal investigation and led to a high-profile legal battle. Kramer's was sold in 2016 to Steve Salis.
Kramerbooks, located at 1517 Connecticut Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood, opened in August 1976 by Bill Kramer, David Tenney, and Henry Posner. Two months later, the business partners opened Afterwords Cafe, with an entrance on 19th Street, in the same building. Constructed in 1920, the building was originally an automobile showroom. Later tenants included Hudson Air Conditioning Corporation and the women's clothing stores Looby and Peck & Peck.
The bookstore was one of four in Washington, D.C. managed by Kramer, who had taken over the business from his parents, Sidney and Miriam Z. Kramer, librarians who opened their first store, Sidney Kramer Books, in 1946. Kramer wanted to open a business that provided customers a place to eat and read, what he described as "two of the three most enjoyable human activities." At the time of its opening, there were few places in the country that provided such a service. The concept became popular and other businesses, including the Harvard Book Store and Square Books, followed Kramerbooks & Afterwords' lead and opened their own cafes.
In its early history, Kramer's was open 24 hours and soon became a popular destination for neighborhood residents, authors, and politicians. It also earned a reputation as a place to meet a potential date. The New York Times described Kramer's as "one part bookstore, one part restaurant and perhaps one part singles bar." According to Posner, Kramer's in part "helped establish a street life in Dupont Circle." For many patrons, it was the first place where they had their "first real espresso and cappuccino, their first microbrews, their first taste of Häagen-Dazs, their first decent bagels." The owners would have fresh bagels from New York delivered to Washington, D.C.'s Greyhound station because they couldn't find any decent ones in the area.
In 1984, Afterwords Cafe expanded by offering sidewalk seating on 19th Street. The business expanded again in 1991 when the adjoining building occupied by Cafe Splendide, 1521 Connecticut Avenue, was purchased. The expanded section included an enlarged bar. In 1993, the first of two branches opened in Arlington, Virginia. The 10,000 sq ft (930 m2) store was three times the size of the Connecticut Avenue location and also included a restaurant. Both of the Arlington branches were unsuccessful and soon closed.
Kramer's came to national attention in 1998 during the Lewinsky scandal, when it successfully fought a subpoena from Kenneth Starr to disclose which books Monica Lewinsky had purchased. When the subpoena was first issued, it was reported Kramer's management would comply, although Kramer said that was not the case. The store was picketed by librarians, customers were upset, and sales dropped. Management chose to fight the subpoena with the help of several organizations, including the American Booksellers Association (ABA), American Library Association, and American Civil Liberties Union.
In an interview, Kramer defended his actions citing the First Amendment and said "They are looking for us to hand over information about a specific customer's specific purchases, and that we will not do." After U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson ordered Kramer's management to hand over the information to Starr, they declined and said they were ready to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. Kramer's management and Lewinsky's lawyers reached an agreement whereby the list of books she purchased would be given to Starr by her lawyers and not the bookstore, thereby protecting the store's integrity. The store's six-figure legal bills were paid in part by the ABA.
Later history and sale
Despite the decline in the independent bookstore industry, Kramer's has continued to draw in customers looking for an intimate setting, live music, author events, and full bar. Kramer's is often called a Washington, D.C. institution and has been described as "iconic" and a "staple of the District's cultural scene." Notable people that have visited Kramer's include President Barack Obama and his daughters who shopped at the store in 2011 on Small Business Saturday. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and John Slattery filmed a scene from the television series Veep in Kramer's. Other celebrities that have visited include Maya Angelou, Andy Warhol, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Cho. In Horacio Castellanos Moya's novel Moronga (2018), one of the main characters spends some time in the bookstore. He doesn't find Roque Dalton's poetry on the bookstore shelf, and ends up drinking a vodka tonic.
The shuttering of large chain bookstores, most notably the nearby Books-A-Million, proved to be a benefit to Kramer's although the increased number of trendy restaurants in the city affected the cafe's business. The cafe and bookstore bring in around the same amount of revenue, whereas before the cafe brought in more money. In 2015, the combined sales for the restaurant and cafe was $10 million. That same year Kramer and Tenney began plans to sell the business. Tenney said "I knew the business was viable, but I also knew the restaurant was beat up and tired. If we could find some way to resurrect and invigorate the restaurant, there would be a wonderful future ahead." They were introduced to &pizza co-founder Steve Salis and in 2016 it was announced Salis would purchase Kramer's with Tenney remaining as part-owner. Salis oversaw an expansion and renovation of the business that included purchasing the adjoining building previously occupied by Willie T’s Lobster Shack. With the additional 800 sq ft (74 m2) of retail space, the bookstore and cafe measure 4,500 sq ft (420 m2). In 2017, several longtime employees, including the general manager, events manager, and head buyer, quit after disagreements with Salis and opened a new bookstore on H Street NE later that year.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kramerbooks & Afterwords.|
- Official website
- "Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe", documentary produced by WETA-TV
- "Lewinsky Book Purchases", news conference video by C-SPAN