Elliott Bay Book Company is the only bookstore to alter my life in direct and positive ways. On a twenty-four hour stop-over in Seattle, a friend-of-a-friend told me "you have to check-it out." In those days, I was a pretty typical East Coast transplant who still didn't quite believe that the Pacific Northwest could actually do some things better than back home - in particular, the book mecca of the world: Harvard Square which (used to) boast more bookstores per mile than anywhere else. I wonder how many of those independents still exist. The Harvard Coop is now a Barnes and Noble in disguise ...
But back to my story. I remember the exact moment I walked into Elliott Bay Books. The exposed brick walls and hardwood floor impressed me, but that was not why I remember the moment -- now fourteen years later. Instead, I had the sense that people here were happy to be among books. The booksellers actually cared if I found the book I was looking for! No dusty dreariness here, no holier-than-though approach to customers, no be-careful-where-you-walk-or-a-book-tower-will collapse.
The thought that ran through my head in that moment? And yes, I really do remember. If you lived in Seattle this would be your bookstore. I wanted to become a Seattlite - I wanted to know what the citizens of this city had done in a past life that allowed the return to such a beautiful bookstore. These are not the types of things I usually think about in bookstores.
It took five years, but events did conspire so that I took up residence in Seattle. The first place I learned how to drive to from my house? Elliot Bay Books. The first place I gave a reading in Seattle? Elliot Bay Books. On average, nine times a week, this bookstore has authors reading on anything from artichokes to zoos. Al Gore, Barack Obama, W.S. Merwin, Madeline DeFrees, Sherman Alexie, and Chris Abani have all read downstairs on the EB stage.
When the bookstore celebrated its 30th anniversary it celebrated by throwing a huge party -- for its patrons and local writers. When I don't have a book to read, I trust that the booksellers will help me find something that is in keeping with my tastes. This month Elliott Bay hosts a birthday party for poet Madeline Defrees. She's turning 90. Chocoalte cake will be on hand for anyone who comes by. When Nassim Asseffi read from her debut novel, Aria, there was a homemade Iranian feast care of the author's mother! Long tables of hot food were set-up and the atmospher was more like a wedding than a book signing.In other words, books are celebrated in this space - not just bought and sold.
There is a wonderful bookstore cafe, a used book room, free gift wrapping, and a good literary magazine section. The citizens of Seattle know that a three story independent bookstore is a precious and rare gem in this economic time. Lately, there are rumors that Elliott Bay may need to move to another location. Here's hoping that with the onset of the holiday season, many book lovers will buy (in person or on-line) their gifts from this magical place. I know I will.
Causes Susan Rich Supports
Doctors Without Borders; Amnesty International, Oxfam America, Barack Obama , Whit Press