Washington DC | September 11, 2020 12:47 pm

The Pandemic-Inspired Reinvention of One of DC’s Most Beloved Bookshops

Kramerbooks is no longer just for books

kramerbooks
Kramerbooks, a DC icon
Austa Somvichian-Clausen

It’s sad to say, but good bookshops have become something of an endangered species, and book lovers everywhere will most likely testify to the fact that each closure feels like a larger loss — yet another sign that the end of days for thumbing through titles IRL is near.

That is why a collective moan was emitted by Washingtonians back in May when a piece ran in the Washington Business Journal proclaiming that the owner of Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, Steve Salis, had committed to moving the 44-year-old business out of its original location in Dupont Circle. Many believed it might mean the store would actually be closing for good, and the response was so intense that the bookstore was forced to post on its own social-media channels that rumors of closures were simply not true.

Why the fuss? Well, since Kramerbooks first swung open its doors during America’s bi-centennial back in 1976, the indie bookstore has become a beloved fixture of the city, known for its popular author events and cozy ambience. The original founders, Bill Kramer and David Tenney, handed the keys over to local entrepreneur Salis back in 2016, but tensions with the store’s landlords have since followed. After expanding the store’s space in 2016, plans for an additional $3 million renovation led to a legal feud and Kramers’ landlords blocking any necessary progress, hence the imminent move.

“We are not imminently leaving tomorrow,” said Salis. “We will most likely be there for six years, and just to be clear, that is when our lease ends. But we will leave no sooner than three years.”

So, for now, Kramerbooks is here to stay — it’s just taking a bit of a different form. The newly dubbed “Kramers” is experiencing an overhauling of the attached cafe, now called All Day by Kramers. Salis is also planning on building a plant shop inside, and a representative of the store tells us it will likely happen sometime next year. And if you ever stepped into Kramer’s back in the ‘80s, you might recognize the return of a breakfast bar that once separated the bookstore from the restaurant, and Salis is even planning on opening a barbershop on the second floor.

The new All Day by Kramers (Kramers)

“This was never meant to be a scaled business. This was meant to protect an iconic jewel,” says Salis, who told Eater that he feels “a great sense of stewardship in doing this. I’ve always had an aspiration of protecting and preserving Kramers.”

For now, those ambitious enough to venture out of their homes can buy books and try the retooled menu at All Day by Kramers, designed by Chef Vincent Griffith of Sidekick Bakery in Ballston. Sandwiches and salads dominate half the menu, but Griffith’s wide variety of breakfast items are also available to order all day long, like smoked pork hash or buttermilk waffles. Menu items (and books) are also available to order for delivery through Postmates. 

For those who didn’t know, Salis also owns several other beloved DC restaurants like barbecue joint Federalist Pig, the Ted’s Bulletin diners, Sidekick Bakery and the not-yet-opened Honeymoon Chicken, which will take over the space formerly occupied by Slim’s Diner later this year. Accordingly, available to order at Kramers until further notice are some limited-edition BBQ sandos from Federalist Pig pop-up Fedwich, featuring new recipes from Pitmaster Rob Sonderman and a few past Federalist Pig specials. Stop by any day between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. for items like the Feddy Cheesesteak, with shaved ribeye, caramelized onions, cheese sauce and cherry pepper aioli.

Oh, and yes — they still sell books.