During his 16 years in congress, Congressman Steve Israel had one instruction for his staff no matter where he travelled. Find a local bookstore. “They were my refuge from the pressures of politics,” Israel said.
The Long Island Democrat ultimately authored two books of his own, and when he retired in 2017, he told PW, ”it was with the intention of opening a store when the right opportunity presented itself.” This week, Israel said that moment has arrived. He plans to open Theodore’s in Oyster Bay before Black Friday.
The community’s place in the nation’s government and politics is storied. Raynham Hall’s Robert Townsend was a member of George Washington’s spy ring, and lived in the home, now a museum, much of his life. Later, Theodore Roosevelt made his home at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, and died there in 1919. The store is named in his honor.
Israel has thrown himself full-bore into learning the business of indie bookselling, travelling to bookstores across the state, attending webinars, reading widely, and, he noted, “doing sanity checks.” The result is a 1,500 sq. ft. store helmed by two full time booksellers, with three to four part timers rounding out the staff.
Of all the bookstores Israel has visited, he said The Book Revue in Huntington, N.Y. held a special place in his life, and it was the closing of the store in September that prompted him to take the steps to open one of his own. “It was my home away from home,” he said.
He hopes Theodore’s can become a similarly singular place for Oyster Bay readers. “An indie bookstore is part of the fabric of a community,” Isreal said. “There is no template, because it reflects particular local interests, priorities, even quirks. An indie bookstore is the community and the community is the indie bookstore.”