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Spotlight on an Indie Bookstore: Elliott Bay Book Company

August 16, 2010

Elliott Bay is not just another bookstore I’ve been calling on for 13 years. Elliott Bay employed both me and my husband when we first moved to Seattle. No, we didn’t meet there. We actually moved here together from the East Coast. When I went looking for a job they weren’t hiring booksellers, but the cafe was looking for cooks. My then-boyfriend-now-husband got a job immediately whereas I had to take a job at another book store in the suburbs of Seattle (it never occurred to me to look into some other profession). I lasted 6 months selling mostly computer books and “adult” entertainment to Microsoft employees, quit the store and almost left bookselling altogether, when Tim came home to tell me there were openings at Elliott Bay. I spent three very happy years there meeting incredible authors, making life-long friends and soaking up even more of the book business.

This stained glass window made the move from the old location.

I was skeptical when I first heard that Elliott Bay had decided to move. They’d been in their location for over 35 years and despite the problems of the neighborhood that have gotten worse over the years, Pioneer Square is still a major tourist destination. Interestingly, it was also the closest bookstore to the Amazon book team’s offices and I know many of them would sneak in on occasion to shop. Their proposed new location, Seattle’s Capitol Hill (no, not a speck of government to be found there) didn’t seem much better to me. In fact, we lived in that area when we first moved to Seattle 17 years ago, and I remembered a population not too dissimilar from Pioneer Square. However, the closing of Capitol Hill’s beloved Bailey/Coy Books in 2009 left an opening in the neighborhood.

I was absolutely floored the first time I walked into the new location. Though they were unloading boxes of books, you could feel how fantastic this new store was. Somehow they had managed to bring Elliott Bay’s smell of cedar and sense of space to a completely new space that’s better laid out, lighter and airier. It’s truly unbelievable how the new store captures the essence of the old.

Rick Simonsen, buyer, creator of the Elliott Bay reading series and all around EBBCo MVP, standing guard a few days prior to opening. The reading series has continued with the move. The store now has a dedicated reading room and even during the move they were able to book authors at off-site locations.

I don’t get out much so I was also surprised to find that their new location is not only a happening neighborhood, but home to family-friendly businesses, great new restaurants (including the Elliott Bay Cafe, which stayed in the old location and opened a second cafe in the new store) and now, one of the best bookstores in the country. What does “family friendly” mean? Well, there’s a fantastic independent toy store, a cupcake cafe, and an organic ice cream parlor all within a few blocks. Strollers can be seen roaming the streets. For Elliott Bay, this means renewed interest in their kids section. They now have well-attended story hours twice a week, and they are bringing in stock that has fallen by the wayside to fill the shelves again. I find myself wanting to go there and bring the kids (and possibly sample some of the ice cream at Molly Moon’s) and have been there more in the last few months than in the last 10 years. I walk in to see faces I’ve know for years smiling at the renewed sense of purpose the store has. Another long-time rep who’s also a former EBBCo employee wrote his publisher asking for a kids event for the store. In his e-mail he wrote that they’ve added something new to the store: Children! This exemplifies the change they’ve experienced over the last few months.

This is kids buyer and 20 year EBBCo veteran Holly posing with the Castle, another relic from the old store that made the move. Storytime at the castle has gotten so popular that they've expanded to twice a week. Notice she's holding Necromancer from the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, one her favorite hand-sells!

Lest you think that this neighborhood has lost all of it’s character, rest assured that it maintains it’s grunge/GLBTQ roots. The dive bar The Comet Tavern still stands on the corner of Elliott Bay’s block and still hosts up-and-coming bands (like my husband’s). The lesbian bar Wild Rose has been there at least as long as I’ve lived here, and many other business have stood the test of time.

Owner Peter Aaron’s gutsy move has so far proven to be Elliott Bay’s salvation, and I wish many more years of success.

Holly and Peter Aaron at the information desk.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2010 8:55 am

    I love Indie book stores – this one sounds so wonderful. Sadly we don’t have any left in our neighbourhood – only chains. They’re very nice, but it’s not the same.

  2. Erik permalink
    August 17, 2010 12:44 pm

    Testify! The new space feels like it’s been there forever and is nothing but excellent.
    I’ve been to the store twice recently in the new location whereas before I was only at the Pioneer square location by accident…. Pioneer square is 20 years behind the times in terms of revitilization and apparently that slumlord Sam whatshisface needs to die off before it can happen.

  3. August 17, 2010 10:13 pm

    Deanna, this is lovely! I was in Elliott Bay every day of my ten-day stint in Seattle. It was so wonderful to walk in and immediately feel the new store was still home–but even better than it had been. Bringing the old shelves was a stroke of unadulterated genius.

  4. August 18, 2010 2:14 pm

    Yes! I live in Seattle and am a huge fan of Elliott Bay. (And its proximity to The Comet doesn’t hurt!)


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