Thursday, December 10, 2009
From the Square to the Hill: Elliott Bay Book Company is on the move
Now it is official. The Elliott Bay Book Company, the retail centerpiece of Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood for over 35 years, will be packing up and moving to Capitol Hill.
It is a sad day. For the city as a whole, for Pioneer Square in particular and in some sense for EBBC as well.
Our book shop has been a block or less away from EBBC for over 15 years. We have seen, felt and have been affected by all the issues EBBC attributes as factors for their decision. Bookselling can be a very competitive business. When you look at the pressures independent bookstores face from online and big box retailers and from new technologies it is a small wonder that there are as many left as there are. The predatory pricing, the numerous new methods of content delivery are just two of the myriad of events that chip away at the independent core. And then there is the economy!
But, unlike many trades, one of the beauties of independent bookshops is that we all work together to try and serve the customer. Whether it is helping them find the books they want, trying to help them sell the ones they want to sell, or in helping provide a venue for them to listen to the author's they love, we all work together to try and make it happen. And it is this community environment, this dependence on each other, that fosters the independence we are all trying desperately to hold on to. Have you tried Elliott Bay? Elliott Bay may be interested? are monikers we speak daily and it is going to be quite an adjustment to remove these from our lexicon.
Of course, though deeply saddened by their decision, we have our fingers crossed for EBBCO. We want nothing more than for them to succeed. And if that takes moving the Capitol Hill then so be it. But by leaving Pioneer Square they will be leaving the place that defined them as much as their reading series, their booksellers and their inventory. The essence of the Elliott Bay Book Company will be lost. The Capitol Hill Book Company might be more appropriate.
The loss for Pioneer Square is significant. A neighborhood that has been on the ropes for years has just been knocked down.
There is enough blame to go around for sure:
- the utter failure of the Pioneer Square Community Association (who shouldn't receive another dime of taxpayer money).
- the social service nightmare that blankets Pioneer Square and has yet to be dealt with effectively by all levels of government. I can only imagine that the current budgetary woes will only exacerbate this issue.
-the failure of law enforcement to make a dent in cleaning up the neighborhood. Every year they seem to add another layer of 'protection' but still nothing has changed. Take Occidental Park -on any given day one can see cops in cars, on bicycles and on horses. One will also see the recently created Park Rangers in their jeeps and the perennial waste of taxpayer money that are the Metropolitan Improvement District bicyclists in there yellow outfits riding around with seemingly little purpose. With all this attention one will also see on a daily basis - people drinking in public, dealing drugs in public, aggressive panhandlers and much more.
And as I mentioned before in my piece when hearing the first murmurs of the potential move, All Eyes On the Elliott Bay Book Company, EBBC deserves some of the blame too. They have been very slow in reacting to the many changes that have occurred in the bookselling world and while I hope they have some new initiatives under their sleeve for their new location their pattern of inaction is a contributing factor in their current dilemma.
So what will become of the soon to vacated space? I can only hope that community, the city, and the landlord can figure out a way to keep it a book destination. I, for one, have plenty of ideas and thoughts on how to make that happen. Our city's glowing international reputation as a literate hi-spot is at stake.
When the dust settles, will this major upheaval be seen as a turning point for Pioneer Square or will it be the last nail in the coffin?
Owner Peter Aaron's post on the move
Paul Constant of the Stranger, who broke the news, shares his thoughts
Knute Berger at Crosscut
Los Angeles Times
Don't forget to read the comments on many of the above posts. they do tell a story.