A former congressman is penning the start of his next chapter: opening up an independent bookstore.
“Once upon a time I would fly on Air Force One with the president,” former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Biden seeks to avoid referendum with sharp attacks on GOP Stopping the next insurrection MORE (D-N.Y.) tells ITK with a laugh. “Now, I find myself crawling around a dark and dusty basement looking for utility hookups.”
The ex-House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee chairman is getting his hands dirty ahead of the opening of his shop, Theodore’s Books, next month in Long Island’s historic waterfront hamlet of Oyster Bay.
Israel, who served eight terms before retiring from Congress in 2017, has been eyeing this literary move for ages.
“Whenever I would travel as [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] chair, my staff had standing instructions to always put on my schedule where a bookstore was in any city or county, because that was my refuge,” says the 63-year-old.
The store’s name pays homage to the 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, who lived and worked in Oyster Bay. A drugstore where reporters covering the then-commander in chief made phone calls and the church that Roosevelt attended are just steps from Israel’s shop.
The former House member says a pandemic was never part of his bookstore fairytale story, but could actually be good for business since it triggered a renaissance in communities around New York.
“People wanted to get out of their homes. They wanted to be outside. They wanted to actually enjoy the experience of feeling a book, rather than reading it digitally,” says Israel of life amid COVID-19. “So ironically, independent bookstores have experienced a bit of a resurgence.”
Israel, who while a lawmaker created the Congressional Writers Caucus and has authored two books himself, suggests he has no regrets about leaving Congress when he did. Asked if he feels as if he dodged a bullet getting out of Capitol Hill just ahead of the Trump era, he responds with a laugh, “In politics, timing is everything — including when to time your exit from politics.”
Theodore’s could give him the next volume he’s looking for: “I could never have done this, obviously, sitting in a markup of the Appropriations Committee. But now I can pursue my passion.”
Israel says some of his Republican former colleagues have quipped to him that now that he’s a small-business owner, “It’s just a matter of time before I become anti-tax and anti-regulation.”
But while the bookstore — which will specialize in history and current events — was founded by a prominent Democrat, Israel says that it’s a space for bibliophiles who span the political spectrum.
“Relentlessly bipartisan,” he tells ITK with a chuckle. “Relentlessly.”