Bookshop Superheroes: Elliott Bay Book Company
June 7, 2021
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 shares features 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!)
Next up is Elliott Bay Book Company, who is taking over our Instagram on Tuesday, June 8!
From the heart of Pioneer Square to the heart of Capitol Hill, the grandfather—or is it the great-grandfather?—of all independent bookstores in Seattle, is Elliott Bay Book Company. Defined by its tables of books, seemingly daily author events, brick interior walls, worn wood floors, and outstanding café, Elliott Bay is the template for an urban gathering place. Karen Maeda Allman, long-time Author Events Co-Coordinator, speaks of her gratitude to their supporters and shares the remarkable and innovative ways they kept the bookstore thriving this last year.
The Elliott Bay Book Company opened its doors in its original location at 1st and Main in Pioneer Square 48 years ago this month. We continue to thrive on Capitol Hill, thanks to the support of our community, despite the challenges of the past year. During the pandemic, much of our business shifted to mail order and to curbside pickup, and while both continue today, we’ve been welcoming more and more people back to the store for in-store shopping since we reopened our doors last August. We’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you!
Here’s what we’ve been up to:
We’ve hosted over one hundred Zoom events, both on our own and with our partners, including one particularly memorable conversation between Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro and Ruth Ozeki, co-hosted with Village Books and Third Place Books and moderated by our own Rick Simonson. Authors have Zoomed in from their homes in the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Italy, Uganda, Ghana, India, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Japan, and France, and our audiences have Zoomed from even more places around the world. We look forward to hosting some “in person” events and more virtual events this fall. Check out our Facebook page and our YouTube channel if you’d like to see what you’ve missed.
Some of our most popular pandemic purchases were our subscription boxes and “blind date with a book” and book bundle add-ons. These subscription options include our longstanding “Maiden Voyage” debut author first edition program, which features novels like Above Us the Milky Way: an Illuminated Alphabet, by Afghan American writer Fowzia Karimi, published by Deep Vellum. We also introduced three new subscription programs: Subtext (poetry), Magnifying Glass (true crime) and Panels (graphic novels). Many of you asked us to choose a book to add to your packages.
Last year, and still pretty early in the lockdown, we offered a Mother’s Day special, which included gift wrapping and a card with a note from the purchaser, which our managers hand-wrote into greeting cards. Our general manager, Tracy Taylor, told me how moved she was by the stories that she heard from people, many of whom had not seen their mothers for months. Some were waiting to share much awaited grandchildren with their mothers. And, we knew that some of us would lose our own mothers and other loved ones during the pandemic.
During the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd and long after, many, many people ordered copies of books about racism and about Black History. We were ecstatic to see Seattle author Ijeoma Oluo’s book, So You Want to Talk About Race, on the New York Times Bestseller List and to help her launch her second book, Mediocre.
We’re open for browsing and for curbside pickup, and mail order continues as usual (for print, ebook and digital audiobooks), and we hope you’ll come and see us soon.
Bestsellers from January-May 2021
Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile
Mediocre, Ijeoma Oluo
So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit
Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel Van Der Kolk
Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguo
Circe, Madeline Miller
Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu
Midnight Library, Matt Haig
Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
The Prophets, Robert Jones Jr.
Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa