Carla Cohen, a community activist who co-owned a Washington bookstore that became a city institution and a key stop for writers ranging from Bill Clinton to J.K. Rowling, has died.
Cohen died Monday of cancer of the bile ducts, the Politics & Prose bookstore announced on its website. She was 74 and died at her home in Washington.
A former city planner, Congressional aide and federal housing official, Cohen founded the store in 1984 and had run it with co-owner Barbara Meade.
During an era when superstore chains, the Internet and the economy led to the closing of thousands of independent stores, Politics and Prose expanded from a crowded storefront with less than 2,000 square feet to a two-story haven with more than 10,000 square feet, including a downstairs cafe.
In the past quarter century, Politics and Prose has become a key stop for political and literary figures promoting books, from Clinton and Jimmy Carter to Rowling and John Updike. Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among those expected to stop there this fall.
After Cohen was diagnosed with cancer last November, she and Meade agreed to sell Politics and Prose. Meade said Monday that they received around 50 proposals, had narrowed them to about half a dozen and expected a final choice within a few months.
"We just finished our busiest year ever," Meade said. "We do a lot of business online, we do a lot of store events and we've always had a growing customer base."
Regular customers at Politics and Prose included such conservatives as George Will and Paul Wolfowitz, but Cohen was a liberal who didn't hesitate to question a customer's choice.
A Baltimore native, Cohen was the eldest of six siblings in a "a robustly noisy Jewish family" where she appreciated the silence of books, according to the store's website. She graduated from Antioch College and worked for years in Philadelphia and Washington as an advocate for greater local control of housing and of neighborhood planning. In the late 1970s, she was an aide to Robert Embry, Jr., assistant secretary during the Carter administration for the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Community Planning and Development.
After Ronald Reagan, a Republican, defeated Carter in 1980, Cohen was out of a job and decided to start a bookstore, her devotion to reading and current affairs besting her disregard for profit and loss. The money side would be handled by Meade, who answered a classified ad in which Cohen sought a store manager.
"She had never been interested in running a business, so her friends told her she had to partner up with somebody who could do that," Meade said.
Survivors include David Cohen, Cohen's husband of 52 years; two children; two grandchildren; and her mother, 100-year-old Edith Furstenberg.