The sudden death of Philip Levy on Oct. 12 at age 72 was a shock. Still shaking their heads in disbelief and sadness are all who knew him: pretty much everyone in Georgetown who ever walked the 2800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue by the Four Seasons and browsed in Philip’s Bridge Street Books (the store is located where Pennsylvania Avenue meets M Street, formerly known as Bridge Street).
Bridge Street Books was more than a bookstore. “It was Philip’s salon, his court, a place of intense discussion, debate and conversation,” Washington Hebrew Congregation President David M. Astrove recalled at a memorial gathering on Oct. 16. Nowhere in D.C. is there anything quite like the store, which survived the closing of many others in Georgetown: Olsson’s, Barnes & Noble, the Saville on P Street, the Francis Scott Key shop on 28th Street, Bartleby’s on 29th. Only Bridge Street and the Lantern remain.
Its faithful staff reflects the spirit of the place — eager to display, suggest and discuss new books, the classics and the miscellany on the table outside (generally marked down to around $6). Well-known policy makers, authors and pundits are often seen there in the flesh, browsing and buying. Book events at the store were rare. But there was Philip and the staff and a couple of chairs by the front desk; this made for frequent discussions.
“Philip would talk about everything — about science, about politics, about books, and about books and really about books,” Astrove said, as hundreds of mourners laughed and wiped away tears.
In the late 1970s, when Philip and his older brother Richard made a trip to London, Philip had spent the entire time visiting every independent bookstore in the city. “Why don’t you open your own bookstore?” suggested Richard. So he did.
Now that bookstore has become an icon of the block and a legacy of the Levy brothers, who lived most of their lives in Washington, D.C., particularly in Georgetown. “What will happen to Bridge Street?” mourners asked sadly at a reception at the Four Seasons. Everyone hopes it will somehow go on. It belongs there. Our idea is to rename it Philip’s Bridge Street Books.