Theodore's Books Coming to Oyster Bay, Long Island
Next month, former congressman and author Steve Israel will open Theodore's Books in his hometown of Oyster Bay, N.Y. The 1,538-square-foot bookstore will sell general-interest titles for all ages, with a focus on history and current events. Oyster Bay, located on the north shore of Long Island, is the site of Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt's home from 1885 until his death in 1919.
While in Congress, Israel kept a Theodore Roosevelt library featuring books by and about him, and he's excited at the prospect of offering those sorts of titles at Theodore's. Oyster Bay was also an important location for George Washington's spy network, and Israel will draw on that facet of local history as well. At the same time, Theodore's will offer all sorts of titles one would expect from any independent bookstore, as well as a selection of nonbook items.
"My refuge as a member of Congress was local bookstores," Israel said, explaining that he's wanted a bookstore of his own even before he became a congressman. When he traveled the country, in fact, his staff had standing instructions to find the closest independent bookstore, no matter where he happened to be. "That's where I was able to seek comfort from the pressures of politics."
Israel reported that while he left Congress in 2017 with the intention of opening a store, things "weren't optimal," for the first few years. Vacancies were high, foot traffic was low, and although he's never expected to make a huge profit with a bookstore, he didn't want to "hemorrhage money."
In the years since, however, Oyster Bay's downtown has undergone a "renaissance" of sorts. There is "tremendous foot traffic," with some 70,000 tourists visiting each year, and the downtown now has "all sorts of amenities." There are new boutiques, shops and restaurants, but the one thing that was missing was an independent bookstore.
For years, Oyster Bay residents went to the much-loved indie Book Revue, located some five miles away in Huntington. Book Revue, however, lost its lease earlier this year, leaving Oyster Bay readers without easy access to an indie bookstore. He added that Oyster Bay is a diverse and affluent area, and the community has a "need to read." Book Revue's closure, he said, was part of a "convergence of circumstances" that told him to "move forward quickly."
Getting the store ready has "moved much faster than the U.S. Congress moves," Israel remarked. The storefront he found already had 80% of its shelving in place and in general the build-out has "not been insurmountable." He's hired Peggy Zieran as general manager; she was once the manager of a Borders on Long Island and also co-owned and managed Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine in Rockville Centre, and with the cooperation of the former owner he's hired some of the top booksellers from Book Revue. At present the team includes Zieran, two full-time booksellers and a handful of part-time booksellers.
"A lot of this has been open hands from the universe," Israel said.
Israel is planning an opening weekend celebration starting November 18, and while he didn't commit to details, he said it would likely operate like an open house, with different authors and historians in-store at various times. Beyond that, Theodore's has plans for a robust series of book and author events, with Israel noting that "there's hardly any Republican or Democratic figure that I can't bring to our store," and one of the store's first major events will be an appearance by author Nelson DeMille. Given the size of the store, Israel and Zieran are looking to partner with local restaurants and other institutions to host their book talks.
Israel said he's been "overwhelmed" by the community's response to the store, and the team has a "very good challenge right now," which is stopping eager people from entering a construction site. The store's website isn't up and running yet, but people are already signing up to receive store e-mails.
"I used to fly on Air Force One with the president," he said. Now he's "crawling around a basement" doing construction work--and that's been "more gratifying." --Alex Mutter