Columns > Published on May 22nd, 2012

Indie Bookstore Spotlight: The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle

Independent and used bookstores offer things the big chains can't: Precise recommendations, spectacular coffee, rare treasures, and a real sense of community. The LitReactor team is scouring the planet to find the very best bookstores in existence, and will highlight them through 'Indie Bookstore Spotlight'. These are the stores that don't necessarily outsell the big stores--but they almost always outlast them.

ADDRESS: 1521 10th Avenue, Seattle WA 98122

OPENING HOURS: Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. | Friday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 11 p.m. | Sunday, 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.

FOOD/DRINKS: Elliott Bay Cafe, located inside the current bookstore, is a favorite lunch and dinner spot for area businesspeople, and makes a damn fine cup of coffee. There used to be two locations--one in the store's old location in Pioneer Square (more on that in a bit), and one in the new location--but in December, the Pioneer Square cafe closed. However, rumor has it that something else will be cropping up there, much to the delight of those who live and work in that neighborhood. 

ON THE WEB: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr

HISTORY: Originally opened in Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood in 1974, The Elliott Bay Book Company was a staple in the city's oldest neighborhood. Tourists made it a point to stop in and experience the "real" Seattle--one that loved books and exposed brick, drank coffee religiously, and genuinely didn't mind the rain. Unfortunately, classic architecture and a view of the bay don't alone make for a safe or thriving neighborhood (Seattle's been trying to "revitalize" the declining urban area), and, in 2010, it became clear that Elliott Bay had to leave the struggling spot. Loyal customers wondered what it would mean--could the store survive somewhere else?

Owner Peter Aaron turned his eyes toward Capitol Hill, Seattle's densest area, which was still moping after the loss of Bailey/Coy, one of its own favorite independent book sellers. After  finding (and remodeling) the perfect location (an old Ford dealership), Elliott Bay reopened in the spring of 2010. The Cafe in Pioneer Square--which looked remarkably similar to Frasier's fictional hangout, Cafe Nervosa--lingered for another year before closing for good last winter, though, like I mentioned, it's hopefully going to be reborn soon.

Since the move, sales have been strong. The cafe and store are constantly buzzing, they routinely participate with neighborhood-centered events (a must in Seattle, which has boroughs that are deeply rooted), and with hundreds of readings per year, it's a necessary stop on many publisher circuits. 


THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Now located in Capitol Hill, which is widely regarded as Seattle's most youthful and hip neighborhood, Elliott Bay sits comfortably between a much-loved restaurant and bar, and several clubs and other things of great interest. There is a yoga studio down the street in one direction, and a beautiful park in the other. 

WHY IT’S AWESOME: Aside from surviving a giant move that could have crippled another, less-awesome store, EBBC is great because it always has what you're looking for--and if they don't, they'll rain-check it for you. The staff is extremely helpful, and the punch-card system (10 purchases saves you $10 on any future purchase you want) means regulars can save money for spending money. Additionally, if you're lazy or live out of state, you can order online. They also have an ample sale section (which is good, since a lot of the neighborhood residents are living on barista salaries), and are open late. 

VERDICT: A great store for Sunday browsing, gift-purchasing, or general bookishness. Check out the large selection of locally-made greeting cards and notebooks, as well. 

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About the author

Born and raised in Eugene, OR, Hanna Brooks Olsen is undersized and frequently overextended. She's a fan of physical activity, well-written sentences, and excellently employed profanities, and is unashamed to be utterly enamored by her little dog.

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