Owner Of Influential D.C. Bookstore Remembered

Funeral services were held Thursday for Carla Cohen, the co-founder of Washington's influential bookstore Politics and Prose. Cohen and her partner built a carefully curated store that not only survived but thrived in the era of the big box store.

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Here in Washington, the bookstore Politics and Prose closed its doors for four hours today in honor of its founder, Carla Cohen. She died earlier this week of cancer.

At a time when booksellers, especially small, independent stores, are struggling, Carla Cohen was both a local legend and something of an inspiration in the publishing world. NPR's Lynn Neary has this remembrance.

LYNN NEARY: A bookstore, at its best, is gathering place for people with a shared passion. That's what Carla Cohen envisioned when she and a partner set out to open a bookstore 26 years ago on an otherwise unremarkable block in a residential neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Mr. MARK LAFRAMBOISE: She created it. I mean, this was - she created it out of nothing.

NEARY: Mark Laframboise has been a buyer at Politics and Prose for 13 years. He remembers Cohen as a generous woman of strong opinions with uncanny instincts for what would work both in books and in business, whether it was picking a bestseller or deciding on the right moment to expand.

Mr. LAFRAMBOISE: We often, as a staff, looked at her and said you're crazy, you're absolutely out of your mind. But very often what seemed like so crazy at the time absolutely was the right thing.

NEARY: Those instincts helped Cohen to build a business that's not only thriving during tough times, it's also a mecca both for authors passing through D.C. and for the community of readers who live nearby.

Andrew Getman, the store's web manager, says Cohen saw the store as a salon where ideas could be debated.

Mr. ANDREW GETMAN (Web Manager, Politics and Prose) She welcomed discussion and disagreement, differences of perspective and opinion. And she wanted people to engage in that conversation, and I think that's part of what she created here.

NEARY: At mid-morning, the store's cafe was full of customers quietly reading or typing on their laptops. Politics and Prose has been up for sale since Cohen fell ill. And a lot people, like Pamela Toutant and Barbara Burkhart, are hoping that whoever buys it won't change it.

Ms. PAMELA TOUTANT: Politics and Prose has really been my second home both as a reader and a writer, and I can't really imagine life in Washington without Politics and Prose.

Ms. BARBARA BURKHART: Especially, you know, in these times when books are sort of under siege with all the technology and everything. It's just wonderful to be able to come to a place where people really care about books and nurture an environment in which people can read and write books.

NEARY: That, said Burkhart, is Carla Cohen's legacy, one that she hopes will be built upon in the future.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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