David Marcuse, who ran bookstores for liberal clientele, dies at 73

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David Marcuse, whose Common Concerns bookstore in Washington became a community hive for bohemians and hardcore liberals in the 1980s by offering publications, posters and t-shirts with an assertive leftist political message, died on 7 April in a hospital in Baltimore. He was 73 years old.

The cause was sepsis and respiratory failure, said his brother, Michael Marcuse.

A former Eagle Scout from Pennsylvania who became permanently radicalized as a student during the Vietnam War era, Mr. Marcuse was a serial entrepreneur who put his political and creative marketing skills to good use. sale of books. He owned several Washington-area bookstores over the decades, but Common Concerns, based in the Dupont Circle neighborhood from 1980 until it closed in 1991, garnered the most widespread attention.

Like a handful of other Washington bookstores run by communist and socialist groups at the time, Common Concerns flourished in opposition to the administration of President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Marcuse promoted the store under the slogans “More Mao Than Thou” and “Still Subversive After All These Years,” and stocked shelves with obscure academic journals as well as feminist, labor and Indigenous periodicals. He also sold black history games. maps.

“It was the only place I could find children’s books that weren’t so Eurocentric,” a frequent patron, identified as a Mauritian scholar, told The Washington Post in 1991.

The store was presided over by Mr. Marcuse, easily identifiable during those years with his beard covering his neck. He was, by all accounts, a man of high spirits and a regular on the local punk scene who had extensive knowledge of almost every alternative press in North America. He played West African rock music, sold tickets to Sweet Honey in the Rock concerts and served pots of coffee grown by farmers known to side with anti-colonial and anti-military struggles in Africa and Central America.

The store was, for many years, an energetic melting pot of residents and a place for poetry readings and other gatherings. Her “Meese Is a Pig” posters and t-shirts — referencing Reagan’s attorney general who fought battles against abortion rights, affirmative action and pornography — were the store’s most popular items, but ultimately not enough to save him.

Running a small business with tight profit margins, he could not survive a national recession and the dramatic increase in rent and property tax bills as Dupont Circle became more gentrified. But he also accepted blame for his inability to part ways with unsuitable employees. “I should have fired some people sooner,” he told the Washington Post in 1991. “And shoplifting – people don’t like to talk about it, but it’s a business.”

David Gerald Marcuse was born in Ashland, Pennsylvania on June 28, 1948, and grew up primarily in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was young when his parents divorced and he was raised almost entirely by his mother, who taught English at a secondary school. -high school.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from American University in 1970, the same year he helped start the district’s community bookstore that aimed to serve the Marx-Mao crowd. He said he included a handful of books by conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) under the theory that the prime customer should “know his enemy.”

Mr. Marcuse left that business after about a year and, first from his Volkswagen Bug and later from a warehouse in Rockville, Maryland, operated a wholesale book distribution called RPM which focused on small texts and the alternative press. He also opened a pop-up retail store, Bookworks, in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and became manager of Sidney Kramer Books in Washington.

After Common Concerns closed, he spent more than a decade as co-owner with his friend Charles Dukes of Chuck & Dave’s Books, Etc., which sold books and toys in liberal Montgomery County, Maryland. , enclave of Takoma Park. Mr Marcuse, who had difficulty standing due to a painful condition called peripheral neuropathy, later worked as a bus driver for children with special needs in Montgomery County public schools.

For many years he was also a volunteer driver for social service organizations including Shepherd’s Table and Meals on Wheels, as well as St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington. A longtime resident of Takoma Park, he moved to Rockville, Maryland four years ago. Survivors include his brother, of Silver Spring, Md.

His niece, Deborah Marcuse, a civil rights and labor lawyer, remembered her uncle as relentlessly optimistic despite a career of health and business vicissitudes.

“David had a radical love of humanity,” she said. “He was everyone’s uncle. At RPM, he eventually had 40 people working there and he hired a vegan chef to cook for them. This is the kind of employer late capitalism really doesn’t care to support.It’s pretty much the opposite of the small handful of monopolies taking over the world right now.

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