Politics and Prose (sometimes stylized as Politics & Prose or abbreviated as P&P) is an independent bookstore located in Chevy Chase, Washington, D.C., on Connecticut Avenue. The store was founded in 1984 by co-owners Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade, who expanded the store fivefold to its current size. After a failed sale attempt in 2005, the two co-owners eventually sold the store to current owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine in 2011. Politics and Prose is known for its knowledgeable staff and is seen as a part of DC culture. Its author events attract a number of famous speakers, such as Bill Clinton and J.K. Rowling, and have a reputation for their astute audiences.
Carla Cohen, after losing her job with the Carter administration, decided to create an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C., despite having no previous experience with running a business. She partnered with Barbara Meade, whom she found through the classifieds, and who, with her previous experience of managing a bookstore, became a co-owner early on. Cohen decided to name the store Politics and Prose because it was "Washington-sounding" and not pretentious, and the two co-owners founded the store in 1984. Meade worried that the name was a put-off, and the store struggled at first to attract authors to speak at its events and relied on local journalists to publicize the location. The store's original location in the Forest Hills neighborhood was across the street from its current spot, and in 1989, Politics and Prose moved to their present larger location after finding success. Politics and Prose has over the years expanded their sections and collections. The store merged with a nearby children's bookstore, the Cheshire Cat, and incorporated its staff in 1990.
Business continued to be successful during the late 1990s as other independent bookstores fell by the wayside and companies like Barnes & Noble expanded. Cohen and Meade decided to sell the store to Danny Gainsburg, who was selling his T-shirt business so he would be able to afford the cost of the store. The co-owners made an agreement with Gainsburg that he would gain control of the store if he was able to function amicably with the rest of the staff. Cohen and Meade set him up in a part-time position to see how he would interact with the employees and sold him an equity stake in the business without informing the other staff members. Gainsburg was pressured to leave by the staff after he kissed an employee on her birthday. The three co-owners agreed that Gainsburg should resign, and Gainsburg received back his initial investment plus a premium. Gainsburg said to the Wall Street Journal, "We all started with good motives, but there was lots of naiveté on all sides." In 2006, a year after the botched sale attempt, Cohen and Meade both decided to hold onto the store as sole co-owners for at least three to five more years and met with an outside consultant to devise an eventual exit strategy.
In June 2010, Cohen and Meade announced their intention to sell the store; Cohen also became seriously ill around this time, and it contributed to the timing of their decision to sell. Jim Lehrer wrote of the impending sale, "...putting Politics and Prose up for sale is like putting the Washington Monument up for sale." There was considerable speculation in the media about possible buyers for the store. There were reportedly over 50 inquiries by October into the possible purchase of the store from Meade and Cohen's husband, David, who inherited her stake in the store after her death from cancer.
It was announced on March 28, 2011 that two former employees of The Washington Post, Bradley Graham, and his wife, Lissa Muscatine, had purchased the store from Meade and David Cohen. The store was reportedly sold for $2 million, although price was not the main factor in the selection of new owners. Meade fully retired from work in the store on December 31, 2012.
Graham and Muscatine have added literary classes and trips since purchasing the store. The co-owners considered an expansion of the store into a Georgetown location but decided against it. In 2014, Politics and Prose announced that it would be operating satellite stores inside of Busboys and Poets locations throughout the city called "Politics and Prose @ Busboys and Poets".
Politics and Prose has a reputation for staff who are able to recommend books to customers. The 14,000 square foot space contains an Espresso Book Machine for on demand printing of self-published and out of print books, a cafe on the first floor of the building called "Modern Times", and a number of different book genres. A Washington Post review of the cafe in 2006 reacted favorably to changes to the menu.
The store is famous for its author events, in which writers usually read an excerpt from their book and take questions from the audience. The Washington Post notes that as the talks gained prominence and the store grew more popular, Cohen and Meade, the original co-owners, "became known as literary tastemakers". C-SPAN broadcasts around five of the talks a month, and the store has gained a reputation for having astute and smart audiences present at readings. Famous readers at its author events have included politicians such as Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and former Senator Edward Brooke, authors J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie, and Amy Chua, photographer Annie Leibovitz, and investigative reporter David Halberstam. Cohen in the past refused to allow some prominent writers to appear in the store, such as Matt Drudge, ostensibly because of their conservative leanings.
Politics and Prose is often seen to be an important stop for authors publicizing their work and is regarded as being a significant part of DC culture. New owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine were ranked #50 on GQ's "The 50 Most Powerful People in Washington" because of their purchase of Politics and Prose, describing the store as "...liberal Washington's most sacred space." The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg commented on the unusually intelligent questions from the audience at readings, and Slate's editor in 2007, said: "If there's one bookstore in the city you want to read in, it's obviously the place."