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The Elliott Bay Book Company Closes Its Pioneer Square Location

Carolyn Beeler

Seattle's Elliott Bay Books closed its Pioneer Square location yesterday. The independent bookstore has become a Seattle institution since it opened in 1973. Now it's moving to a new home on Capitol Hill. KUOW's Carolyn Beeler reports.


I'm here at Elliott Bay Books in downtown Seattle's Pioneer Square. The store is packed as longtime customers take one last walk across the store's famously creaky floors and look for a final book.

Alexie: "The first reading I gave here was part of an anthology called 'Deep Down Things,' I was still a college student. "

That's Sherman Alexie. He's a Seattle poet, novelist and screenwriter. And he just won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner literary award.

Alexie: "So we drove over on a road trip a couple of us who were in it. And I think that was in '89? 1989. Gave a reading downstairs and aside from the people that were in the anthology I think there was about four people in the audience, so."

He came to say goodbye to this space. It's a very special place for book lovers. Lofty and spacious, filled with light, but still cozy.

Alexie: "The last time I could fit in here was probably a poetry reading, that probably would have been in '98. Since then I've been in Town Hall. "

Man: "This is a great place to start."

Alexie: "Exactly, and the beautiful architecture here, and the neighborhood, it's, as I was saying to you, it's like an Indian funeral, because we spend just as much time laughing as we do being sad. I'm excited about where they're moving to economically, but in terms of history and culture it's sad to leave. "

Some regular customers are taking photos of the old wooden bookshelves and staircases. Deborah Sherbina is doing some last–minute browsing.

Sherbina: "I'm kind of sad because it's really an anchor of the neighborhood, and an institution. And it's, I feel like it's a loss. "

Beeler: "Why is it a loss? Can you talk a little more about that? "

Sherbina: "Well frankly I am glad that they are keeping the business in Seattle, but it's really the place that made the store for me. Kind of the sense of the 19th or whatever the building is, early 20th century, 19th century, the bricks. It's really an institution, it's kind of an end of an era. "

Elliott Bay's owner is Peter Aaron. He hopes that's not true.

The store isn't closing, just moving. He says he worked hard to find a new location that would have that same Elliot Bay vibe.

Aaron: "I remember the first time I walked into the store when I moved to Seattle 27 or 8 years ago and came through the front door and looked around and my response was wow. This is what a bookstore should look like. And for a lot of people that wow factor is really important. So it was it was really a challenge to find a building in the right kind of location that would offer that. It'll be different, but it's a beautiful space and a I think a space that anybody would easily recognize as being an outgrowth of where Elliot Bay has been."

Aaron says sales have steadily declined at the book store over the past several years as foot traffic in Pioneer Square has trickled off. He blames the lack of parking, and also the perception that crime and homelessness are rising in the neighborhood.

Aaron: "This location, being in Pioneer Square for the last several years has just become more and more difficult, and there was no reason to think that in any sort of time frame that we would be able to endure that it was going to change for the better. It was very difficult to think about the bookstore being anyplace else. When it got to the point where it was clear to me that the choice was between the bookstore being someplace else and the bookstore no longer being, once I absorbed that the rest of it became a lot easier."

Elliott Bay isn't the only business in the area relocating to Capitol Hill.

Across the street a floral shop has a sign saying it's moving there next month. Store owner Megan Mary Olander says she loves Pioneer Square. She's always felt safe here. But business has been hard, and she cites the same reasons as Aaron for leaving.

Olander: "I don't know, it just feels like it's time to move because of the perception of Pioneer Square right now."

Many of the businesses in the neighborhood say they'll do just fine after the bookstore leaves. They point to a new deli a few blocks away, and the stores they say will continue to attract shoppers.

Elliott Bay Books will have its grand opening at its Capitol Hill location on April 15.

For KUOW News, I'm Carolyn Beeler.

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