Elliot Bay Book Co.
12/01/09 09:13 Filed in: books
The Elliott Bay Book Co., long a fixture in the city's Pioneer Square, may have to shut its doors. It's a long story with plenty of villains.
Amid the blues bars and rescue missions of Pioneer Square, Seattle's storied intersection of sports and booze, art and vagrancy, the Elliott Bay Book Co. has stood as a symbol of comfortable, old-world erudition.
For years, it has been one of the West's few destination bookstores, a place tourists and locals alike visit for the sake of spending a couple of hours getting lost in its 140,000-some neatly stacked titles. When the last actual book downloads onto Kindle (at Amazon.com on the other side of town), Elliott Bay, one feels sure, will still be selling its musty, hard-bound predecessors, perused with a tangy cup of espresso in the basement cafe.
So it is with no small degree of anguish that Seattle has reacted to the news that Elliott Bay is facing the likely choice of either moving across town or closing altogether when its lease is up Jan. 31....
Elliott Bay has always done more than sell books.
It has the most active reading program in the country, holding more than 500 readings a year in its intimate, book-filled gathering room downstairs.
Bill Clinton, Norman Mailer, Salman Rushdie, David Lynch and Richard Russo have all read and talked in the space that seems to invite lively, back-and-forth conversation.
The cozy, independently run cafe, also downstairs, is rumored to be the inspiration for Cafe Nervosa on the Seattle-based television series "Frasier."
Upstairs, on the main floor, there is an entire wall of staff-recommended books, and the shelves throughout the store are flecked with handwritten cards from the store's knowledgeable staff.
Thom Chambliss, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Assn., said independent bookstores could survive competition from online retailers, but the killer blow is being struck by big-box retailers who are deeply discounting the easy-to-sell, big-name bestsellers that normally allow stores like Elliott Bay to also stock shelves with wild bird catalogs, biographies of obscure feminists, first novels of new regional authors, and treatises on the politics of climate change.
"It's a problem for the country, not just the industry, if we don't have stores capable of making a profit while stocking all the 'backlist' books," he said.
"That will really hurt the cultural opportunities for this country. People's access to ideas will be seriously compromised. And that discussion is not taking place in this country."
More here... It would be hard to face a world without Elliott Bay. I spent a lot of hours in that cafe and in the bookshelves.