On Wednesday April 14, 2010, Seattle's beloved Elliott Bay Book Company marks its bittersweet relocation to 1521 10th Avenue on Capitol Hill with a "soft" re-opening celebration. The store -- which has rightfully been called "the heart of Seattle's literary community" (Constant, December 15) -- follows up with an even bigger celebration the following day. Despite some lingering sadness over its departure from its original nest of nearly four decades, one measure of the joy the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, nearby businesses, and area residents feel about their new neighbor's arrival is the "Welcome to the Neighborhood" banner hung above the April 15th Grand Opening Block Party. The party features a ribbon-cutting ceremony, music (by the rock band, Let's Get Lost), beer and liquor, and delectable edibles (provided by the Oddfellows Cafe, Cupcake Royale, and Molly Moon's).
A Destination Bookstore in Dire Straits
The Elliot Bay Book Co. was founded back in 1973 by Walter Carr in the historic (1890) Globe Building (1st Avenue and Main Street). Then, around 1998, it was sold to the Third Place Books owners, who soon offed it to an employee, Peter Aaron. In its 38 years of operation, Elliott Bay became established as the town's premier book shop, and since 1979 it featured a popular basement café and in recent times held about 500 author reading events per year. The Associated Press listed Elliott Bay Book Co. as one of America's nine "destination" bookstores (Carter).
Alas, in recent times every independent "brick-and-mortar" retailer's destiny was to endure the brutal corporate competition brought on by big-box stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, online sellers like Seattle's Amazon.com, and the inexorable advent of brave new technologies (audio books, laptops, Kindle, iPhones -- and now, Apple's iPad Tablet). But the biggest challenge Elliott Bay faced was its dubious location: being based in Seattle's historic old-town section of Pioneer Square meant that it long struggled to survive in a neighborhood of low-population density, street crime, a parking shortage, and overwhelming tidal flows of rowdy sport fans passing through en route to the nearby stadiums. The cruelest factor of all though was the economic recession that began in late 2008 (and remains in effect at the time of this 2010 writing), and in which almost all retailers suffered.
But even if a comfortable old-school retail shop begins to seem to some cutting-edge twenty-first century folks like a cultural anachronism -- a charming throwback to our not-so-distant post-Gutenberg/pre-RAM memory world -- a significant portion of the community cherishes such places. Indeed, Elliott Bay boasted a global reputation amongst book lovers. Thus the fretting and angst that would erupt when word broke that the anchor business of Pioneer Square -- where dozens of storefronts already sat empty) -- might be bailing out and heading for the hill(s).
Rumor Becomes Reality
"There is a rumor buzzing around small business owners on Capitol Hill," wrote Seattle blogger, Paul Constant on October 16, 2009, "and the rumors are remarkably similar: They say that literary institution Elliott Bay Book Company is going to close its Pioneer Square store and move to Capitol Hill." As other Pioneer Square shopkeepers, various newspaper columnists, many online discussion thread participants, and all the radio talk show hosts ground their teeth over this traumatic possibility, nothing was publicly confirmed until Constant got the official word from Aaron on December 9.
Three months later, on Wednesday, March 31, 2010, a final book was sold at Elliott Bay's original location and the following morning all 36 employees began the Herculean task of packing up 150,000 books (69 tons-worth), and all their old cedar shelving, for a two-mile move. The new site is a beautifully refurbished (circa 1918) Ford truck-repair shop (1521 10th Avenue), customers are plentiful, and a happy new chapter for Elliott Bay Book Co. thus begins…