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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thoughts About Elliott Bay Book Company

Posted by on Wed, Dec 9, 2009 at 5:10 PM

In the last two months, I've read a lot of speculation—some thoughtful, some painfully maudlin—about what Elliott Bay Book Company's move from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill will mean. Now that store owner Peter Aaron exclusively revealed to The Stranger that the move is official, it's time to start looking at the situation.

(Before I get started on this, let me include a disclaimer: I worked for Elliott Bay for 8 years starting in 2000—I worked as a night manager and fiction buyer, and I started the graphic novel section—before becoming books editor here at The Stranger.)

Crappy articles about bookstores (including the L.A. Times story I linked to above) do their best to equate bookstores to the past. It's easier for reporters to write about dusty bookshelves giving way under the onslaught of shiny new technology, and booksellers looking sad as they face the future. But books will always be around in one form or another, and the story we should be telling is how books are transitioning from the past to the future—and make no mistake, books are in perhaps their most transitional state since they were first created.

The story of Elliott Bay moving isn't a story about creaky floors—Aaron practically guarantees in his letter that the new space, a space with its own history and character, will have creaky floors. It's a story about a small business, a small business beloved by the city of Seattle, trying to find its way in the 21st century. Simply moving to Capitol Hill won't be enough to save Elliott Bay, and hopefully Aaron realizes that. Elliott Bay has to remind Seattle that we are a city that loves books. We are the most literate city in America. I think we have more talented writers here than anywhere else in America. We for sure have the best bookstores and libraries in America. But sometimes you take things for granted, and that forgetfulness is what Elliott Bay has to fight through, to remind us why Seattle loves books, why Seattle is a city built on books.

Elliott Bay has always been the heart of Seattle's literary community, and that heart doesn't have so much to do with the space the store is in. Great people have been inside the current Elliott Bay space at 101 South Main Street—Kurt Vonnegut, Bill Clinton, Gore Vidal, Annie Liebowitz, and literally thousands more—and that space deserves its respect. It will get its respect, and its story will be told. But Elliott Bay Book Company is the place that Tom Robbins used to call the "freewheeling literary funhouse," a place where poets would get together and have too many glasses of wine and fight about nothing at all. It was where Matthew Stadler would host his marvelous salons with Clear Cut Press authors and stay way too late talking about books and ideas. It was where Ryan Boudinot wrote the stories that became his collection The Littlest Hitler, where Matt Ruff set one of his finest novels, where authors get choked up because they're reading on the stage that they've seen so many authors read.

During my 8 years at Elliott Bay Book Company, I watched as the city continued to abandon Pioneer Square. They didn't provide basic amenities like zone parking permits for the urban pioneers who tried to live there, they didn't provide police protection for people who dared to visit there after dark. And the Pioneer Square Community Association didn't do anything to make Pioneer Square valuable for Elliott Bay. They've had two months of rumors to make the bookstore feel more welcome and wanted. What's the only thing they offered? New banners on the streetlights. Talk about a joke.

The only things that Pioneer Square had to offer Elliott Bay Book Company—with a notable exception that I'll get to in a minute—was the sporting events (which had very little financial impact—baseball games raised sales a little bit, football games dropped sales a little bit) and the tourism (which increased foot traffic a great deal, but tourists didn't affect sales much at all, either).

But Elliott Bay's biggest asset—its literary community—was slowly strangled by Pioneer Square. Dutch Ned's, the home of the Poetry Slam for years—closed. Interesting events disappeared. The only lingering sign of that community is the great bookstores that still remain in Pioneer Square—Wessel & Lieberman, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Newberry's, the Globe Bookstore—and if the city has any sense, it will do its best to keep those businesses happy, before Pioneer Square really does consist of a bunch of bars. The way the city has shamefully abandoned Pioneer Square is a tragedy, and it's a story that will be told.

Elliott Bay needs to be in a community where people actually live, near bars where writers write and cafes where readers read. With Pilot Books and Twice Sold Tales and Spine and Crown books nearby, Capitol Hill is already making a huge leap toward becoming the Book District that Pioneer Square used to be. That's why this is a great and necessary move for Elliott Bay Book Company. And that's why this story is about growth and transition, about an important part of literary culture in Seattle getting the shot in the arm that it needs, and not about the loss of a space. This is a great step forward for the city, for literature in Seattle, and for the bookstore.


Comments (75) RSS

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One more thing on the distance-from-the-commercial-core debate... 4th & Pike is actually perfectly equidistant from the old and new Elliott Bay.

But it doesn't matter, as Matt From Denver illustrated @88. Let's parse the why slightly further:

Downtown Seattle's light cycles are heavily, HEAVILY weighted for traffic on the numbered avenues and against traffic on the named streets. The effect is amplified for buses, of course (barely missing lights not just because of stops but because of frequent and poorly placed overhead-wire-splits).

But it's worst for pedestrians. The lights are timed so as to nearly guarantee 2 minutes of waiting for every minute of walking in the direction of Capitol Hill, at least as far as Boren. You could cut your trip in half but strategically jaywalking, but that part of downtown is where the roaming Jaywalking Stasi are concentrated.

Downtown to Cap Hill is not a quick jaunt any way you slice it, and won't be until the train goes in (see @94) or Metro really cleans up its act.

(p.s. Is there anything more emblematic of a sick society than Seattle's crusade against those who would get from point A to point B quickly using their own two fee?)

(p.p.s. Still waiting on evidence that Will In Seattle is ever, in fact, in Seattle.)

Posted by d.p. on December 13, 2009 at 6:22 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle @ 46,

I can't believe I'm even spending the energy correcting your transit idiocy, but here goes...

The current Elliott Bay is a 4-minute walk from the Pioneer Square light rail station. The stretch by the ugly parking garage can be unpleasant for a moment, but then you turn onto tree-lined, landmark-filled and kind-of busy 1st Ave S and the next 2 blocks fly by. This walk presents no psychological barriers, even in bad weather.

The new Elliott Bay will be a 7-minute walk from the Capitol Hill light rail station. The entire walk is through the desolate, wind-swept cavern of SCCC architecture. Not a problem whatsoever in good weather, but a psychological impediment (in that it makes the walk seem further than it is) in the rain or cold. (Need evidence? How about all of those people downtown who will wait 10 more minutes for a #10/11/49 rather than take a #43 and and do that very walk.)

Knowing what you're talking about "FTW."

Seriously, Will, are you in Seattle?

Posted by d.p. on December 11, 2009 at 10:49 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 93
Um, you're arguing with me because I lived in Seattle for 8 years, dummy. I know it as well as you, and it's apparent that I know DOWNTOWN better than you, and how the downtown worker has the time to do a little browsing in Pioneer Square but not in Capitol Hill, the reality of taking Metro to the Hill at any given hour of the day, etc. I don't know or care to know what you do for a living, but I can tell you haven't done it downtown (unless it was at Westlake) or else you wouldn't make such preposterous suggestions that they can just run up the hill because it's the same distance (which I've show it is not - and BTW the corner of 2nd and University is 5 blocks from Westlake, two of them uphill).

EBBC has made it's decision and I'm sure it's the best business decision they could make. Just don't live in some fantasy world where all the same customers are willing to follow them no matter where they go.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 11, 2009 at 1:47 PM · Report this
michael strangeways 92
Benaroya is what, two blocks from Westlake? (and by the way, I'm no fan of Westlake, but it IS the central meeting place downtown. No one EVER says "hey, meet me outside City Hall/the Columbia Tower/Rainier Square!")

People who love books and love Elliot Bay will find a way for the "arduous" journey to the no man's land of Capitol Hill.

And I've been in Elliot Bay on a weekday and in the evening and I've never noticed hordes of downtown, book lovers thronging the aisles...but, I have seen them in B&N and Borders.

Pioneer Square is a's sad but true. And Elliot Bay is making a smart move. Contrary to what a lot of you on here think, access to a far larger resident base, a far more willing to buy walk by crowd, (do you really think Seahawks/Mariners fans, looky loo tourists on holiday with limited space to transport home bulky books, homeless people and drunk/horny 25 year olds on their way to the skeevy bars are a very desirable pass by market, you're sadly mistaken...) and Seattle's serious lovers of good books and bookstores, I think they'll do fine.

uh, and the bus trip up the Hill is only awful from 4ish to 6:30ish but ALL bus trips out of Downtown are hellish in those hours...the rest of the time it takes 10 minutes...and if you're not a complete lazyass, it's not a bad walk; from 5th and Pike it should take a healthy person 15-20 minutes to walk.

I love where I live but I'm the first person to point out that Capitol Hill is far from perfect and it's not the Center of the Universe, or even's just the most interesting and frequently, the most maddening place in town.

Why am I arguing about this from someone who DOESN'T live here currently and doesn't really know what the fuck he's talking about yet seems to be an expert on Seattle, a city I've lived in for almost 10 years?
Posted by michael strangeways on December 11, 2009 at 10:23 AM · Report this
Boos 91
Wow, with all this talk of Powells Im surprised no one has mentioned Green Apple Books in San Francisco- actually a somewhat good example here- Green Apple is no where near downtown SF, way out in the Richmond- yet this place is generally well visited and I think it goes back to someone´s point regarding turn over- if you come here once a week, youll find stuff that you didnt see the week previous and go home happy.
Posted by Boos on December 11, 2009 at 1:59 AM · Report this
Violet_DaGrinder 90

I love the current Elliott Bay building/location. I'm sorry they're moving. But I do spend more time on the Hill than in Pioneer Square (despite living closer to PS), and I probably will actually go to the new location more. Even if the space isn't so great. I'm sure I'm not the only one, and I want them to survive more than I want them to stay put (I'm pretty sure I would cry until I shriveled up into a mummy if we lost Elliott Bay right after Bailey/Coy, and mummies don't get to read EVER), so, good. Fine.


Fuck this economy, dude.
Posted by Violet_DaGrinder on December 10, 2009 at 8:48 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 89
Fnarf, I think you're just being a cat-allergy drama queen. And going from 43rd to 35th on foot (and back) is a very short walk.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 10, 2009 at 5:44 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 88
Westlake Center is the "cultural, societal, entertainment" center of downtown?


I'll give you retail, but unless things have really drastically changed in the past couple of years, the "cultural, societal, entertainment" center is 2nd and University, with Benaroya Hall on one side and SAM on the other, with several nice restaurants, galleries and shops within walking distance. Guess what else is in walking distance (or a short free bus ride) from there? Pioneer Square! (Which realistically is part of downtown too.) I certainly never regarded Westlake Center to be the heart of downtown in my eight years of Seattle residency. Pike Place Market has a more legitimate claim to that title than Westlake Center, unless you're a shopaholic.

Michael, you're perspective simply is not representative. If you've worked downtown, tried to run up to Capitol Hill to take care of some errand and get back to work, you'll know that just getting there and back takes up most of your time. The buses are supposed to run frequently but you might wait 10 minutes or more anyway because they're unreliable; it often takes more than 10 minutes to get from 4th/Pike (for example) to Capitol Hill, even at midday, especially if the bus is overloaded because it was late; and before you know it you have 20 minutes left to get back to work. And I haven't even mentioned the time it might take to walk to Pike/4th if you work at, say 2nd and Spring. Sure, some jobs will let you take hours and set your own schedule, but many don't. Not that you care; you seem to have this weird disdain for downtown workers.

I'm very glad for you and for all the other Capitol Hill book lovers that EBBC is relocating there. For those of us who don't (or didn't, in my case) live there, it's not such good news. If I were still in town I'd continue to shop there, but I can guarantee that I wouldn't make the trip as frequently. You may be too much in love with your neighborhood to comprehend that, but some people find it much more congested and aggravating than Pioneer Square.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 10, 2009 at 5:43 PM · Report this
michael strangeways 85
I don't have a problem with the fact that the large size of Powell's enables it to carry an enormous inventory of books, (uh, that makes me happy as fuck), but it's monstrous size also makes it a side show attraction that draws waaaaay too many people to it who aren't even there to buy anything but to gawk and take some pictures and be able to go home and say they went to Powell's. Everytime I go to Portland I get excited because it means I get to go to Powell's and everytime I get there I want to leave after 10 minutes because I can't look at the stuff I want to look at because some fatass family from Peoria is blocking the aisle for a photo moment or to coo over a coffee table LOL cat book...OR, I find books I want to buy only to get to the check out line and it's ridiculously long.

To put it in a gratuitous and disgusting analogy, a really huge block sized bookstore is like a 12 inch penis: rare, enormous, fun to look at but not very practical and ultimately a bit of a'd be better off with a clean, functioning 7 or 8 inch bookstore...biggish, well-stocked but not more than you can handle.
Posted by michael strangeways on December 10, 2009 at 3:28 PM · Report this
michael strangeways 84
uh, I never said it was the fucking GEOGRAPHICAL CENTER of downtown (and who gives a fuck where that is, anyway) but it's the cultural, societal, entertainment, retail CENTER of downtown! No one gives a rat's ass about the Business District except the poor motherfuckers who have to work there everyday.

And, still not sure why it's so hard for people downtown to walk to Pike Street, wait a few minutes for a #10, #11, #49 which run quite frequently, ride the bus for less than 10 minutes (unless it's rush hour, then it's awful, but most buses are awful at rush hour) to Pine/Broadway and walk the block to the new store but then I'm also confused by the idea that Capitol Hill is a non-destination...if Capitol Hill is a non-destination then why the fuck are there so many NON-residents swarming the Hill on the weekend going to our stores, restaurants, bars, clubs, art galleries, cinemas and theater spaces?
Posted by michael strangeways on December 10, 2009 at 3:18 PM · Report this
MattBriggs 81
It's not like Pioneer Square will be empty of bookstores -- even with Elliott Bay gone. As Paul points out a number of stores remain, including at the edge of Pioneer Square, Arundel Books. Maybe Elliott Bay, Hugo House, Pilot Books, and Twice Sold Tales will create a kind of perfect book. cocktail around Cal Anderson Park? For one thing, they will all be within walking distance of The Stranger.

I agree, too, that the only analogy for Powell's in Seattle is Amazon. But Powell's has the advantage of being a bookstore rather than a gigantic generic retailer that happened to use books to test a business model (twice, I suppose if you see the Kindle as a kind of trial-run for other delivering other digital products). So the analogy doesn't quite work.

One advantage that Seattle has is oddly not having Powell's (yet -- since they may come). Powell's is a monolithic presence in Portland's lit world. There are other great bookstores, there such as Looking Glass books, but really it is essentially Powell's. Instead Seattle has a dozen odd neighborhoods and most them can host a bookstore, such as Magnolia Books or Third Place Books - Ravenna. We also have UW Bookstore which is a pretty great bookstore. And as Paul pointed out in his post, books are going through a big change and no one really knows what that means. Books will continue to exist. Stores will continue to exist. But no one really knows what a bookstore may look like in say 10 years. When is the last time you've been in a record store? Likely a successful model will develop as a small business willing to take a risk on an unknown retail business model to make it work. I have no idea if Seattle is friendly to this kind of experimentation. I know there are ton of nonprofits in Seattle, even though they have a high mortality rate. But maybe a hostile environment is good for developing that kind of thing?

Elliott Bay isn't that store. It was founded during the wave of great small business bookstores in the early 70s, and is a bookstore that sells physical books. To me, the move just clarifies that Elliott Bay is going to continue doing what it does best, which is continue its reading series, talk about traditionally published books, and sell traditionally published books.

The entire "traditionally published book" work is changing, but it won't go away. I haven't owned a vinyl LP in years. There are people who only want vinyl. I haven't even bought a CD in years. I listen to more music than I used to ... and likely whatever format books end up in -- either Book Espresso machine POD, ebooks, ripped-of bit torrent libraries, specialty stores will remain. The margin between Capitol Hill and First Hill seems like a good place to have a store like that -- despite the fact that is very near the site of online only Pistil Books, the old Red and Black, now gone Bailey/Coy, the now gone Horizon Books. Books smell and some people will likely want to pay to smell them.
Posted by MattBriggs on December 10, 2009 at 1:31 PM · Report this
But books will always be around in one form or another..."

Yes, but not necessarily bookstores.
Posted by bigyaz on December 10, 2009 at 1:19 PM · Report this
Fnarf 79
Well, there's your answer: you have no sense of smell!

Eyes on Fremont is more like 43rd and Fremont, in that little strip of shops well to the north of "downtown" Fremont. I've been in there several times and never seen (or smelled) a cat.
Posted by Fnarf on December 10, 2009 at 1:18 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 78
Um, Stewart Street is the north boundary of Downtown, so being right there kind of undermines your contention that it's the "center." Half of that "six block radius" you're talking about lies in Belltown. The library is more like the center.

Twice Sold Tales was never smelly when I went (2003-2005, when I lived near there). My wife has to go to Eyes on Fremont for new frames, so I'll wander down and check it out next month... are they still in Fremont? (Or am I thinking of a different store? There was a place near 35th and Fremont Ave...)
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 10, 2009 at 1:08 PM · Report this
Eric F 77
#31 Michael Wells, you are a very excellent human being. And I hope you'll reenter the bookselling trade in some form or another. Elliott Bay and many other places could use your buying acumen.
Posted by Eric F on December 10, 2009 at 12:58 PM · Report this
Mahtli69 76
I call bullshit on everyone saying that Pioneer Square is too far from "downtown". You can get on ANY bus headed that direction for FREE and be there in what, 3 minutes? Hell, you don't even need to sit or touch anything if you're afraid of getting bus cooties.

I agree with Fnarf about Capitol Hill not being on the way anywhere. I live in Ballard, and can get anywhere downtown (including Pioneer Square) on ONE bus. Capitol Hill is a pain in the ass to get to by bus or by car.
Posted by Mahtli69 on December 10, 2009 at 12:53 PM · Report this
michael strangeways 75
uh, Westlake IS the center of downtown...that's why there is a big plaza there...and when people say they are going "Downtown" chances are that means they are going to be within a 6 block radius of Westlake and, at some point, walk through it. More people might WORK in the Civic/Financial District (if you're not counting retail jobs) but unless you work there or have business there, it's not that much of a destination, is it?

Powells is lovely but I've been there many times at many different times of the year and it's always a bit chaotic and too crowded with people that don't really seem that interested in buying books...just wandering around and gawking.
Posted by michael strangeways on December 10, 2009 at 12:36 PM · Report this
Fnarf 74
EVERY place with a cat in it is smelly, Matt. And highly poisonous to people who are allergic to cat dander. Even the books I bring home from them cause Mrs. Fnarf problems.

Bookstores with cats in them tend to go out of business, too.

I haven't been in Twice Sold Tales for many years because of this. I dunno how stinky they are in their new location, but I'm quite certain they are stinky to some degree.
Posted by Fnarf on December 10, 2009 at 12:08 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 73
No, cats rule, but they only belong in small used bookstores. It's been a very long time since I've been in any kind of shop with cats hanging around that wasn't free of catbox smell, and I dare Fnarf to go out and find one now. (I'm coming to Seattle next month, so I'm going to check out any place you allege is smelly.)
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 10, 2009 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Fnarf 71
Paul, the problem with your characterization @68 of a "frame you throw around a collection of books" is that it's static. Once you've visited it, you'd be pressed to find a reason to visit it again. Powells gets more new stock in every day than most bookstores have EVER HAD. We've all been to bookstores with ten million books but no new stock since twenty years ago.

Oh, and let's not forget cats. Powell's doesn't have cats. Neither does Elliott Bay. This is essential. A bookstore with cats in it might as well be knee-deep in excrement (and frequently is).
Posted by Fnarf on December 10, 2009 at 11:40 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 69
@ 67, true, but combine that turnover with size and wow!

Tattered Cover once had that (albeit only with new books - they've only just now decided that maybe they should carry used books) but they really blew it when the internet came around. They failed to develop any kind of web presence like Powell's did, and now they're a very pale shadow of what they were in the 90s, when Powell's was the only store that could compare to it.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 10, 2009 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Paul Constant 68
@61: I lived in Boston for a few years before I moved out here, and I've gotta say: Boston is not so hot on the literary scene anymore. Harvard Bookstore is great, and Brookline Booksmith is a great bookstore in a hideous space, but beyond that and the Brattle, there's really nothing for bookstores there, and it's impossible for a young writer to get a foothold without an MFA. The literary history in Boston is incredible, but the mantle has been passed.

@56: You're right. I meant: "The best literary city in the country," but in the heat of the moment I went hyperbolic. I apologize. And, yes, I know that there is such a thing as a "Brooklyn;" I just don't care, like everyone else who doesn't live in Brooklyn.

@Powell's people: I visit Powell's every time I go to Portland, and I do love it for what it is, but it's too goddamned big to be a bookstore. There needs to be a new name for what Powell's is. A bookstore is the frame you throw around a great collection of books, and Powell's isn't so much a collection as a hoard. The only other thing that is much like Powell's, to my mind, is The Strand. Lovely, enormous, but not quite a bookstore.

Posted by Paul Constant http:// on December 10, 2009 at 11:25 AM · Report this
Fnarf 67
@59, @60: what makes Powell rock isn't size, it's turnover. They've got their buyers with people lined up all day long. That's how you build a bookstore, by bringing in new stock all the time. Hell, there's probably a more interesting selection waiting in line there, not yet bought, right this minute than most smaller bookstores (including Elliott Bay's used room).

Cameron's in Portland on 3rd, six blocks east of Powell's, is a pretty great store too, as is the Powell's branch on Hawthorne, which is almost as big as Elliott Bay if you count the mind-boggling cookbook one next door.
Posted by Fnarf on December 10, 2009 at 11:16 AM · Report this
Fnarf 66
@61, yes, Harvard Square wins for "most literary" if your idea of a contemporary trend is Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Some good bookstores in the neighborhood, though, which is, honestly, ten times more important than anything "literary".
Posted by Fnarf on December 10, 2009 at 11:09 AM · Report this
Fnarf 65
@63, try again. You still haven't got it.
Posted by Fnarf on December 10, 2009 at 11:06 AM · Report this
Fnarf 64
Wait, what? We're talking about Powell's, now? Um, sorry, but Powell's blows the doors off every bookstore in the country, let alone Seattle. Seattle's really only fair-to-middling when it comes to bookstores. Powell's is better than all of the bookstores in King County put together.

The tourists at Powells are clustered in a couple of areas by the entrance and the cafe. Not a problem. There are no tourists up by the photo books, for instance. And, you know, if they're buying books, are they really just "tourists"? What makes a "tourist" worse than anyone else with a book in his or her hand? Elliott Bay has a lot of tourists in it, too. The mark of the tourist in a bookstore is the ratio of books to giftie items (i.e., "reader's tools" or any non-book merch), and Powell's does quite well in that regard -- better than Third Place, for instance.

David, Amazon is great for what it is, but as a used book vendor they are ABYSMAL. You can only really buy used copies of recent books there, with bar codes, and even then only sometimes, because their method of cataloging makes it impossible to tell what edition you're looking at or what condition it's in, or even what it is, really.

Addall is the only way to shop used online, and only by ignoring Amazon results (go for the Abebooks and Alibris results).

But ultimately books, especially used books, sell best by hand. I need to see the cover, and the title page, and the index, and the inside a little. Amazon's "Look Inside!" feature is limited to a tiny handful of usually very stupid books.
Posted by Fnarf on December 10, 2009 at 11:05 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 63
(Elliot - try typing that three times fast)
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 10, 2009 at 11:02 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 62

I'll be glad to buy Vonda's new Steampunk anthology, "The Shadow Conspiracy", at the new Ellitot Bay Book Company on the Hill.

There was nothing else to draw me to Pioneer Square, and there hasn't been for years.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 10, 2009 at 11:01 AM · Report this
@50 West Coast pretenders. Having lived in walking distance of Harvard Square I can tell you that the "most literary" prize belongs back in Massachusetts. not that Seattle isn't great, it's just a bit like claiming that it's also really sunny never gets cold.
Posted by texan on December 10, 2009 at 10:54 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 60
@ 59, TOO fucking big? When it comes to a bookstore with a wide and varied selection, there is no such thing as too big. And I sure haven't noticed that many "gawping tourists" there on my several trips. Could be because I haven't been to Portland in the summer. My idea of a place "TOO full of gawping tourists" is Pike Place Market during cruise season. I'm sure that even in the summer, Powell's is nothing like that.

Then again, I'm talking to the guy who thinks "Westlake Center" when someone says "Downtown Seattle." That's a rather strange way to view things. Oh well, to each his/her own...
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 10, 2009 at 10:53 AM · Report this
michael strangeways 59
Powell's is great in the sense it's a huge repository of books, but it also kinda sucks because it's TOO fucking big and TOO full of gawping tourists.
Posted by michael strangeways on December 10, 2009 at 10:41 AM · Report this
@56, Constant is a moron. Don't expect too much from him. He worked at a bookstore for 8 years. Not a lot of ambition in that one. I doubt he has even been out of the country. Cozy little bedbugs love to pretend they know what is outside of the covers.
Posted by Poop Goblin on December 10, 2009 at 10:14 AM · Report this
gember 55
I guess I qualify as a "tourist looky-lou" (though believe me, I never get out of there without dropping at least a hundred bucks) because I haven't lived in the area for years, but I visit as often as I can and my nonnegotiable shopping must-hit destinations are EBBC and Sonic Boom Capitol Hill. The latter will have moved before I visit next week and this will be the last time I visit EBBC at its old location.

How sad that they have to leave such a wonderful space; I remember my amazement at constantly turning corners and discovering new spaces within the store that looks so tiny when you first step in. I also remember having a wonderful veggie reuben or bowl of chili on a cold day while leafing through a pile of new purchases. I hope their new space maintains the character of the old, and that they're able to survive.
Posted by gember on December 10, 2009 at 9:49 AM · Report this
@53, Awesomely stupid boycott. Your stats are correlational and leotarded. Drunken, snowblind trannies spilling out of Neighbor's into the busy streets in cheap, dangerous heels are the reason there are so many accidents at that intersection.

@52, I would insult you but your avatar has won my affections.
Posted by Poop Goblin on December 10, 2009 at 9:42 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 52
@ 51, you're being disingenuous. You can only have meant Powell's, and if you didn't, then you're a poor communicator and the misunderstanding is your fault.

That said, as much as I like Elliott Bay, I like Powell's better.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 10, 2009 at 9:06 AM · Report this
I didn't say anything about Powell's you little bitch.
Posted by Poop Goblin on December 10, 2009 at 8:44 AM · Report this
Paul Constant 50
@49: Fuck a Powell's right in the eye. If bigger was actually better, then Powell's would be better than Elliott Bay. But it isn't, so it ain't. Actually, no wait. If bigger was better, then jackassy David Wright @47 would be right: Amazon would be the best bookstore in the world.
Posted by Paul Constant http:// on December 10, 2009 at 8:42 AM · Report this
Portland crushes Seattle both in book stores and book lovers. Suck it Seattle.
Posted by Poop Goblin on December 10, 2009 at 8:28 AM · Report this
Terrific piece! I grew up in Seattle in the 1980's (when it was still really just a big town) and as a teen spent my weekends trolling the city. We spent most of our time downtown (shopping records at Time Travelers, seeing the dusty 'artifacts' at Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, etc.) but literally made our way to Pioneer Square solely for Elliott Bay Bookstore. It was a very Seattle landmark that felt like a very Seattle landmark: the building helped you see what the neighborhood was like during the Alaska Exposition, the store had a large selection of books, accessible staff, and the cafe' downstairs (before the 'out of the box' bookstores). It felt like 'what a bookstore should'. They have their work cut out for them with this move but as you said - if they can remind Seattle that they love this book store then they can do this move and make the store successful. Thanks for a great tribute that also suggests helping the Pioneer Square neighborhood businesses better.
Posted by Concerned for the Community on December 10, 2009 at 7:35 AM · Report this
We for sure have the best bookstores and libraries in the world.

Yes, we do have the best bookstore in the world. It's called, and it's going to put Elliot Bay out of business.

We do not have anywhere near the best libraries in the world, unless you think the main function of a library is to house homeless people.
Posted by David Wright on December 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 46
@42 - you have to walk quite a few blocks from the "two light rail stations" near Pioneer Square.

In the rain. In the cold.

Or smell the drunks in the summer.

Yup, Capitol Hill ftw. Pioneer Square used to have a lot of fun arts places, but not so much now.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 9, 2009 at 11:38 PM · Report this
i've worked in P-square for 19 years. this all makes sense: NO FOOD except Uwajimaya and Pike Place Market. so of course you'll get no one to live there. Stadiums? check. Bars? check. clip-joints to part the tourists from their money? got that too. (underground tour, anyone?) after Adobe left, the local businesses saw a real downturn in traffic. Nothing has replaced that. the bars change every other year, there's plenty of Persian Rug shops -wtf?- and it's still surrounded by homeless missions. no disrespect, just sayin'...No families live west of the 5 or south of Denny. Put in a Hooters and a Chili's, call it good, turn around, and walk to the library. or up to the hill.
Posted by tussinextreme on December 9, 2009 at 11:26 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 43
@ 40, when I lived in Seattle (and I worked downtown that whole time), I made it to EBBC on many lunchbreaks. The only time I didn't was when my work was in Century Square (same building where Borders is [or was? is it still open?]) and too far from EBBC to be able to spend any time browsing and still get back to work on time. But that was only for a few months.

If you're north of University or Union, or up the hill beyond 4th, EBBC was maybe too far to go. But it was plenty accessible within those boundaries.

And I echoed Fnarf's sentiments on the other thread, but he really nails it here - Capitol Hill is not all there is to Seattle, and it's not the best Seattle has to offer. Capitol Hill residents seem to believe otherwise, and the writers of The Stranger all have that attitude. The only people who can seriously believe that ECCB will be more accessible in it's new location are Capitol Hill residents.

I sincerely hope they can make it work, although being closed for two whole fucking weeks to move doesn't strike me as any kind of sound business decision. When Denver's big bookstore, the Tattered Cover, moved, they did it in a day, and I'm sure that they had about as many volumes as Elliott Bay has now. EBBC better have some decent cash reserves if they really plan to be closed that long.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 9, 2009 at 11:19 PM · Report this
Fnarf 42
@40, I don't hate Capitol Hill, I just don't go there. It's not a destination for me generally, and it's not on the way to anywhere, and it's hard to get to. It doesn't have anything I want.

What I do hate is the provincialism that Capitol Hill stoops to at times, the "gosh, aren't we terrific, I'm SO sorry you aren't fortunate enough to live here, in the center of the universe" hubris you hear at times. Like now. Capitol Hill's OK. I've spent a total of maybe eight years of my life living there over the last almost thirty years. But it's not the only place on earth.

The other thing I hate is when Will in Seattle posts to Slog. Like here, where he boasts about Capitol Hill's light rail advantage over Pioneer Square, which is mudbrained insane.
Posted by Fnarf on December 9, 2009 at 10:53 PM · Report this
michael strangeways 41
And hasn't anyone else figured out that it's no coincidence that Bailey Coy announced that they're closing a month before this announcement? This deal didn't happen over night or over the course of a couple months...I'm guessing that it's been in motion for quite a while (real estate deals take months to put together) and I'm guessing that someone at EBB told Michael at Bailey Coy what was going down and Michael knew he couldn't compete with a store with 10 times the inventory and 10 times more financial backing....which is too bad. In an ideal world, we COULD have more than one general use bookstore in a neighborhood.
Posted by michael strangeways on December 9, 2009 at 10:37 PM · Report this
michael strangeways 40
1)wow, who knew Fnarf had so much Capitol Hill hate in him?

What's that all about?

2)Really? Elliot Bay was "Downtown's bookstore"? Since when is Pioneer Square "Downtown" (well, it was in 1890). If we're being real I'm guessing that the downtown B&N and Borders does 10 times the business of Elliot Bay.
Posted by michael strangeways on December 9, 2009 at 10:30 PM · Report this
I live close to the Rainier Beach light rail station. Since the bookstore is just a short walk from the Pioneer Square station, I've actually been in to EBBC more in the last five months than in the prior ten years. A couple of times I've gone up expressly for the purpose of a trip to EBBC--miniature two-hour vacations with books and coffee. Sad to lose that.
Posted by Thel on December 9, 2009 at 8:55 PM · Report this
Holy hell, #27. "Will degrade hundreds of millions of dollars of transit infrastructure?" Absolute disaster for Capitol Hill?"

Jesus, Chicken Little, I am starting to think you might have a SLIGHTLY skewed perspective.
Posted by karion on December 9, 2009 at 8:23 PM · Report this
I think all this proves is that homeless people have won in Pioneer Square.
Posted by muji tuve on December 9, 2009 at 8:17 PM · Report this
Go there. Buys lots of books. Give them your money, give them some love.
Posted by Michael Wells on December 9, 2009 at 8:12 PM · Report this
Resident Clinton 30
I am sitting in Caffe Vita reading this post right now, about a block from where the new store will be. I'm looking about me and there aren't skinny jeaned hipsters everywhere. There are middle aged people in comfy sweaters talking about books. There are a few young people on computers working on a paper about the environment. There is a family playing cards. There are quiet couples sitting together and - READING. This is a neighborhood that needs and will support a quality, classy, gorgeous bookstore. All the Capitol Hill generalists at being incredibly small minded and blind to the relative benefits and drawbacks to ANY part of town. I'm so happy to welcome Elliot Bay Books to the neighborhood.
Posted by Resident Clinton on December 9, 2009 at 8:00 PM · Report this
unregistered 29
so torn...

saddened by the movement of ebbco from its iconic place in pioneer square. saddened by this this seemingly stop-gap measure to slow the death of the printed word on paper.

unfortunately, books are dead. if not by predicted by 30 year olds, this will be confirmed by their 20 year old counterparts... future consumers will carry around their kindles or tablets or whatnot. books aren't more than a future version of ephemera.

(confidential to peter: invest in real-estate! something tangible! you are too kind of a poetry-loving soul, too nice of a human being to be brought down by technology! the future is writ, and unfortunately the bricks and mortar bookstore will folllow the book. get out while you can... )
Posted by unregistered on December 9, 2009 at 7:57 PM · Report this
onthequest4peace 28
I am afraid I am not as optimistic that a geographic cure will save the Elliot Bay. Just as I now read SLOG and the Seattle Times on line, my book buying has changed and I do much of it online. I am not one of the intelliigensa, but I am an avid reader and my tastes are rather pedestrian and my budget limited. Hence, like many folks(poor or not)I am very price responsive. I buy at Costco and I use Border's coupons. For Elliot to survive think it will take a savy on line presence and greater effort at being price competitive.
Posted by onthequest4peace on December 9, 2009 at 7:48 PM · Report this
I for one welcome our new literary overlords.

I rarely visited Elliott Bay Books in the last decade or so, simply because I loathed going down to Pioneer Square for any reason whatsoever. Bailey-Coy was a decent alternative, but because of its comparatively smaller footprint it simply couldn't match EBBC for sheer breadth and depth. With Twice Told Tales and Half Price Books already on the Hill, they'll definitely have competition in the used books dept., but personally I don't think having even MORE access to both new and used tomes could possibly be a bad thing.

Plus, Elliott Bay has always had a very good drama section, and there are some theatres in that neighborhood that could benefit from having more people reading dramatic literature no doubt.
Posted by COMTE on December 9, 2009 at 7:08 PM · Report this
@$6: You are advocating boycotting EBBC because they are making use of existing parking?

Good Christ, that is painfully stupid.
Posted by karion on December 9, 2009 at 7:03 PM · Report this
@4--"nothing of literary interest has ever happened in Pike/Pine"? See Riz's comment @9. Richard Hugo House is half a block off of Pine, and they traffic in nothing but literary interest. Plus, Hugo members get 10% off at EBBC...I see this as being very beneficial for both orgs.
Posted by brinsonian on December 9, 2009 at 7:01 PM · Report this
@20, Unfortunately, Bailey Coy was stuck in a dead neighborhood. We can talk about "Capitol Hill" as one neighborhood in the residential sense, but when it comes to restaurants and retail, the Pike/Pine corridor is where the action is. Give it a few years (and EBBC will help a lot, as it will be a draw for retail traffic) and Broadway may be re-gentrified and bounce back.
Posted by Luckier on December 9, 2009 at 6:51 PM · Report this
I hope Elliot Bay can keep itself as an Author's venue.
Slog itself if proof though that reading is changing and books are sadly becoming the "old format". And this is double plus ungood.
Posted by Zander on December 9, 2009 at 6:47 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 19
@17, Well, then there's hope.

Still, a side-trip to Capitol Hill for a book? The east/west light timing in this town makes that a 40-minute loop from downtown, with no traffic, and 60-plus at 5pm.

I'll definitely stop in if I'm up there for another reason. Of course, I say that now, BEFORE I'm to drunk to read.
Posted by Free Lunch on December 9, 2009 at 6:32 PM · Report this
I can't wait to walk down to the new EBBC and bring visitors when they come from out of town. The area is transforming faster than I ever imagined and so far it's mostly great. I've lived near Cap Hill for over 10 years (and an additional 3 years in the early 90s). EBBC and the new restaurants and shopping is a welcome and needed change.
Posted by DS on December 9, 2009 at 6:29 PM · Report this
Fnarf 17
@12, you write "most have bookstores in their own neighborhoods." Oh, if only that were true. Most people sadly do not.
Posted by Fnarf on December 9, 2009 at 6:16 PM · Report this
CodyBolt 16
Welcome to Cap. Hill! I can't wait to walk down and buy my first book!
Posted by CodyBolt on December 9, 2009 at 6:15 PM · Report this
I like your hopeful attitude Paul! There is always a way for things to turn out well and I think you hit the nail on the head.
Posted by Cale on December 9, 2009 at 6:11 PM · Report this
Er, can't wait . . .
Posted by mint chocolate chip on December 9, 2009 at 6:10 PM · Report this
Great analysis, Paul. I think it's the right move and I can't want to shop there.
Posted by mint chocolate chip on December 9, 2009 at 6:09 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 12
If any neighborhood can support it, it's Capitol Hill, for all the reason you mentioned. But it will now be a neighborhood bookstore, not a downtown bookstore, where everyone works and lunches.

People go two places every day: work, and home, and most have bookstores in their own neighborhoods. I'd bet good money that 9 of 10 customers of the new location will live on the Hill.

So step up, Hill denizens. It's your bookstore to lose.
Posted by Free Lunch on December 9, 2009 at 6:03 PM · Report this
This piece has the ring of truth, thoughtfully told. Thank you.
Posted by Citizen R on December 9, 2009 at 5:58 PM · Report this
stinkbug 10
Paul, what do you think they'll decide on the used books front?
Posted by stinkbug on December 9, 2009 at 5:54 PM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 9
and it will be within spitting distance of hugo house..which is a huge asset to me..and a park to read and gawk and read some more in..
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on December 9, 2009 at 5:54 PM · Report this
nedludd 8
"In addition the new space will offer something we’ve never been able to offer before—wheelchair access to all levels." Yahoo!
Posted by nedludd on December 9, 2009 at 5:53 PM · Report this
Fnarf 5
@3: University Book Store's used selection gets more interesting by the day. Plus, they've got Magus right around the corner, which is probably still the best used bookstore in the city.
Posted by Fnarf on December 9, 2009 at 5:38 PM · Report this
Fnarf 4
Or, @1, maybe Pioneer Square is the neighborhood that has TWO light rail stations and a streetcar line open RIGHT NOW, while Capitol Hill has (ahem) none. Admittedly the "streetcar" line is a pathetic bus line painted to look like the Waterfront Streetcar, but it does exist.

Fucking hell, is there ANYTHING you know?

The tragedy of the Pioneer Square Community Association and their idiotic banners is exactly matched by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and THEIR idiotic banners, soon to be forthcoming, with that spiffy new green logo they unveiled the other day. Damn, that's hot. But really, that's about all CA/CofCs have to offer. They can't do the hard work, like a city can.

I like how Pioneer Square's bookstores are "lingering signs" while Capitol Hill's are a "huge leap". You guys dig Capitol Hill because it's your neighborhood, not because it's got any real literary significance. Seriously: nothing of literary interest has ever happened in Pike/Pine. But you guys won't have far to walk, so that's good. For you.

I reject the notion that skinny-jeaned club hoppers in Pike/Pine are any more interested in lidderacher than the fratters down in Pioneer Square. But Pioneer Square is within reach of a lot of downtown office workers. P/P isn't.

Oh, and by the way, the last time I was down at Elliott Bay, I parked right across the street for three bucks. Hmm.
Posted by Fnarf on December 9, 2009 at 5:37 PM · Report this
I really, REALLY hope they keep a substantial used section. I, and many others I am sure, will probably be in there twice as frequently if I have the chance of stumbling upon a long-sought used book at a good price(one of life's greatest joys). One of the most special things about EBBC is that it, along with Powell's, are two of the only two large bookstores with both all the important new publications, as well as a substantial used section. It is a unique model, and should be replicated.
Posted by Dedalus on December 9, 2009 at 5:36 PM · Report this
That was great.
Posted by gloomy gus on December 9, 2009 at 5:21 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 1
or ... it could just be that whereever light rail stations and their connecting streetcars are, that's where most of the customers are going to be ...
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 9, 2009 at 5:17 PM · Report this

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