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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Kyniska's picture
Kyniska from Pepperland is reading Just Kids by Patti Smith June 20, 2012 - 4:44pm

You forgot to mention the awesome castle in the children's section...

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emmawattson's picture
emmawattson September 23, 2021 - 2:42am

Book reading is my hobby, I used to read books when I get free time, you can say that the library is my peace point. I think book reading is an effective way of learning new vocabulary and becoming a team of professional ebook writers because through book reading we can get to know how to phrase the sentence with perfection.

brians power's picture
brians power April 9, 2022 - 3:43am

As a professional essay writer, my opinion is that Elliott Bay is not just another bookstore I’ve been calling on for 13 years. Elliott Bay employed both me and my wife when we first moved to Seattle. No, we didn’t meet there. We actually moved here together from the East Coast. When I went looking for a job they weren’t hiring booksellers, but the café was looking for cooks.

emmawattson's picture
emmawattson September 13, 2022 - 11:37am

In my experience as a Study in UK, Elliott Bay is different from the other bookstores I've called on over the past 13 years. My wife and I were both employed by Elliott Bay when we first arrived to Seattle. No, that's not where we met. We actually relocated from the East Coast together. They weren't hiring bookstores when I went job hunting, but the café was searching for chefs.

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