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Former congressman set to start a new life chapter with opening of Oyster Bay bookstore

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel said he plans

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel said he plans to open his bookstore in downtown Oyster Bay, Theodore's Books, just ahead of Black Friday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Former Congressman Steve Israel wants the next chapter of Oyster Bay’s downtown revival to be a page turner, so next month he plans to open Theodore’s Books on Audrey Avenue just ahead of Black Friday.

The 1,538-square-foot bookshop will be a place where bestsellers and children’s books share the shelves with Israel’s passion — history, including books on the store’s namesake, former President Theodore Roosevelt.

The bookstore will share the block with Oyster Bay Town Hall, where Republicans have dominated local politics for decades.

"One of the reasons I want to open this place up is because I’ve had it with left versus right and sound bites," Israel said Wednesday. "I want to just have a place where people feel comfortable coming in and exploring the books and having civilized discourse."

Israel, 63, is an Oyster Bay Cove resident who grew up in Levittown. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years, has published two novels of political satire — a third novel is on the way — and said the bookstore is a passion project.

Making it in the bookselling business in the era of Amazon, the e-commerce giant that is building a 204,000-square-foot warehouse in nearby Syosset, means that focusing on events like book signings and readings is "a major part of the business plan," he said.

"There is hardly any national Democrat or Republican leader that I can’t get to come here to do a book signing," Israel said. "The challenge is we don’t have ample space for them."

Israel said he’s talking to other businesses in the community to partner with on events in larger spaces, including holding history book events one street over at the Raynham Hall Museum.

To compete with Amazon, a local booksore has to be a "destination," he said.

"You have to be a place for people who just want to stroll in and browse and feel a book, actually feel it in their hands," Israel said.

The closure last month of Book Revue in Huntington has been an opportunity for Israel, who said he’s hiring some of the store’s former employees to bring their experience and knowledge to his business.

Sagamore Hill, the residence of Roosevelt, brought in 55,186 visitors in 2017 who spent $3.1 million in communities near the park, according to a National Parks Service report.

Israel, a Roosevelt fan, said he wants to give those visitors a place to indulge.

"Many of them come downtown and there’s no bookstore," he said. "Now, there will be … when you walk in there’s going to be immediately a table filled with Theodore Roosevelt books and gifts and paraphernalia."

Meredith Maus, executive director of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association, a nonprofit that advocates for historically sensitive economic development, said the new bookstore will help round out the downtown’s retail and commercial base.

"The Oyster Bay community has been waiting for a bookstore to come back for a long time," Maus said. "The excitement that he brings is going to be one more welcome addition to the new businesses we have opening in the downtown."

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