A Blog of Seattle Arts & Lectures

Bookshop Superheroes: University Book Store

Bookstore workers and owners have been absolute essential workers during this pandemic—heroes on the frontlines of our mental health. After those first months when reading felt really hard, when the doom-scrolling kept us in our lizard brains, books were there waiting for us in all their analog selves. Books, as one 2020 Summer Book Bingo player said, are the only safe way to travel right now. 

In appreciation of our local indies who have reinvented their processes and protocols over and over again in the service of getting the just-right book to the just-right hands, our  Bookshop Superheroes blog series features interviews with our partner bookstores and special Instagram takeovers to get a glimpse into a day in their store. (Not following us yet on Instagram? Check us out!)

Up next is the stronghold of the Ave, University Book Store, which is taking over our Instagram today, Tuesday, April 6! Pam Cady, an employee of the bookstore since 1994 and the manager for the last eight years, shared with us some thoughts and history about her beloved bookstore.

How has the pandemic effected your business?

We closed our doors for four months, re-opened on July 14th, and learned how to serve our community in so many new ways! Spring Rush started the week after lockdown started; our staff quickly pivoted to filling 16,000 online textbook orders where we honed our shipping and curbside skills. And while we’ve been hosting over 400 brick and mortar events a year, we’ve been gathering online every week via Zoom with some of our favorite authors—it’s really been remarkable how quickly everyone got used to being in front of a camera.

We’re now open 12 p.m.-4 p.m. every day and are looking forward to expanding our hours in the near future. We’ve been lucky that while our University of Washington community has been off campus, our Seattle community at large has been keeping us busy.


Tell us a fun fact about the bookstore!

The University Book Store is Seattle’s first indie bookstore! I know that comes as surprise for some folks who think we are owned and operated by the UW. We were started by two intrepid students in a cloakroom next to Denny Hall in 1900. No start up capital was offered to the store—it has been a self-supporting business from the beginning. We are one of a very few college bookstores in the country tthat is organized as an independent business. This year is our 121st anniversary. Last year, for our 120th anniversary, we had many fun events planned, but COVID brought those to a halt, which was heartbreaking.

Our mission is to serve and to give back to the UW community, but it’s also to serve the larger Puget Sound community. Many of our customers have been visiting our store since they were children and have memories of times that even predate our long-time booksellers.

At the top of our priority list has been the ongoing social and racial equity discussions we’ve been having in-house. We’ve committed to being an antiracist and inclusive employer, and have started those uncomfortable but very meaningful conversations that we know are just the beginning. We share our book lists with our customers and have anti-racist book kits for adults and young readers available on our website.

What have been some of your top sellers this year?

Well— have you heard of the Netflix series—Bridgerton? The author, Julia Quinn, who has been a friend of the bookstore for years and has designated us as her official bookstore, has 12 books at the top of our bookseller list—the ultimate title, of course, being Bridgerton!

Robin Hobb’s fantasy trilogies: Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Apprentice, and Assassin’s Quest (Illustrated Editions).

The other top sellers have been: Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, A Promised Land by Barack Obama, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Wilde Childe by Eloisa James, Small Magic by Terry Brooks, and Circe by Madeline Miller.

What are you excited about as you move forward this year?

Starting April 5th until May 21st, we will have our big blowout sale—50% off in-store only. As more people are getting vaccinated, our long-standing customers are coming back into the store. They are so happy to see us, and it feels so good to see them. We missed each other and are delighted to visit and have conversations with them. Our students and staff will be back on campus this September! The light rail is also scheduled to open a half block from our Ave store. We are planning on being busy.

Thank you, University Book Store!

Posted in Behind the Scenes