RIP: David Marcuse, 1948-2022; Common Concerns, 1980-1991

On April 7, the DMV lost an important figure in the area’s Left culture when David Marcuse passed away in Baltimore. Marcuse was founder and owner of the bookstore Common Concerns, a hub of the local Left community that operated from 1980 to 1991. The store was part of a quartet of locations in the 1300 block of Connecticut Ave. NW, between which DSA members beat a well-trodden path in the 1980s, along with the local DSA office in the Dupont Circle Building, the former Machinists Union headquarters down the block where DSA membership meetings and public forums took place, and the Dupont Villa, where members dined before meetings and met afterward for drinks. Common Concerns and the Villa shared the space that was occupied by The Big Hunt until February 2021.

The Washington Post finally ran a substantial obituary on Marcuse on May 13, detailing his years in the business of disseminating progressive literature as well as hie deep involvement in the community.

I wrote another obit of sorts for the Labor Day 1991 issue of the Socialist, lamenting the demise of Common Concerns, a critical resource for the local Left in the pre-Internet days. Together, the Post obit and the Socialist piece should give the reader a sense of the man and his work.

Concerned No More
The Washington Socialist, Labor Day 1991

In late July, I learned of the imminent death of an old friend. Almost immediately, I rushed to see the fatally afflicted in order to pay last respects, and perhaps pick up a bargain or two.

For Common Concerns, Washington’s premier progressive bookstore, was, as signs in its windows said, “concerned no more.” This Dupont Circle landmark, an institution cherished by the local Left community, was going under, another victim of Bush’s recession. My grief was only slightly assuaged by the opportunity to buy anything on the shelves (except magazines) for 20 percent off the regular price.

No longer will there be such a congenial place to browse, and perhaps be inspired, before a DSA forum. There may still be places where you can pick up the latest book by Barbara Ehrenreich or Cornel West, a Ronald Reagan fright mask, a copy of a Bolshevik-era poster, Central American handicrafts and a Class Struggle game set. But all in the same place?

Whenever I wanted to sample a new and interesting Left periodical, I knew Common Concerns would have them all, from Mother Jones to Social Text. When a new Michael Harrington book came out, who had it first? Who always kept sacks of Nicaraguan coffee near the cash register when it was the leftie thing to do? Who had an entire shelf labeled “Sexual Politics?” You know who.

Lest you get the wrong idea, Common Concerns’ leftism was never sectarian or stuffy but always open and free-spirited, even a bit wacky. It had the best collection of Zippy the Pinhead compendia anywhere (are we having fun yet?) as well as something approximating the complete Furry Freak Bros. and Commies from Mars. At Halloween, the staff was known to grab the rubber masks and check you out as Yasser Arafat or Margaret Thatcher.

The Commons Concerns faithful will now undoubtedly undergo a diaspora to Bick’s, Revolution Books, Lambda Rising and elsewhere. But it won’t be the same. Nowhere will progressives living under Republican rule have such a like-minded, congenial place in which to plot the overthrow of the powers that be. Certainly no other store will be so rich in the intellectual and aesthetic resources that have helped leftists keep their sanity through tough times. Common Concerns, come back! We need you!

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