Steve Salis | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Steve Salis


Kramerbooks is a landmark bookstore and café located in D.C.'s DuPont Circle neighborhood. Steve Salis, who is the first new owner of Kramerbooks in 40 years, got his start co-founding the local restaurant chain &pizza.

The Mistake:

Separating doing things because they feel right versus doing what’s right. It’s something I think a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with.

[I remember with one negotiation I was involved in,] there was a tenant in a space that I was looking to acquire. That tenant was backed by a very large company — as part of a conglomerate —  and I made a couple of business decisions that I felt helped the actual business out, no question. But there were a couple of things I did to try to sweeten the deal in hopes of future business opportunities that I thought might present themselves as part of establishing this relationship. 

Instead of paying $1,000,000 for a deal that was worth $650,000 — a figure offered to sweeten the deal to try to make inroads with the company — I should have offered them $650,000. Because that’s what the deal was worth. Looking back on it, it was clearly a gamble. 

You always have to put the interest of the company first.

The Lesson:

When making decisions as a business leader, you always have to be able to take all the information and make the best possible decision you can. You never really know what the outcomes are really ever going to be. I think on my path I’ve done certain things where I felt good about the decisions I made, but inevitably probably knew that maybe instead of feeling right I should have done what was right.

I think one of the biggest things we can do as leaders and as entrepreneurs is always to reflect on everything that we do. And I don’t mean over-analyze it. We’re going to make mistakes, we’re human beings. We’re going to make decisions based on whatever the reasons are … Some decisions are good decisions, some decisions are bad decisions.

[But] being a little bit more wise than I was even yesterday — I like to think – I would simply say that you always have to put the interest of the company first and you always have to look at each situation and obtain the information that you need to make quick decisions.

Follow Kramerbooks on Twitter at @kramerbooks.

Photo by Evy Mages. 

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