by Tracy Taylor
I’ve had the pleasure of being at Elliott Bay during the 20th, 30th, and now 40th anniversaries. At each of these milestones, I’ve been reminded of all the amazing people who work here and have worked here, I think about the customers who have supported us and continue to support us, and I remember the thousands of authors who have honored us by sharing their works with audiences here. For me, thinking about all these people is the most meaningful and emotional part of this celebration.
I’ve seen the store go through major transitions: changes in staff, changing competition, new ownership, growth, decline, growth again, and most recently, a new location. When I first started in 1990, I think Jeff Bezos was sitting in our café in Pioneer Square writing his start up business plan. (I ‘d like to think we would have at least refused him that free refill on coffee if we’d had any idea what was on the horizon.) Back in my first year, management of the store was transitioning from Kristine Anderson to Joel Scannell, who eventually passed the torch on to me.
By then the author series had found its feet and Rick Simonson finally had an assistant, Kurt Jensen, so Rick could finally get a night off. Now we have a reading’s staff of six or seven who keep our authors and audiences well cared for, both in the store and out into the community at our many events around the city.
Back in 1990, the staff was a pretty tight group, and it still is. Our expectations of one another are high and we are proud to be booksellers. We are a staff of well read, intelligent people and we butt heads from time to time, but we are passionate about what we do and there is respect. Everyone works to serve our customers and get the right book in their hands and goes to extra lengths when needed.
This 40th anniversary marks a personal milestone for me as well. I am 52 and have now spent half my life as a bookseller, 23 of those years at Elliott Bay, where I met my husband, Greg.
I loved working for Walter Carr, the founder and original owner. He was fair-minded, knew what he wanted his business to be and had a fatherly demeanor. To me, he was one of those mentors you find in life, who help shape how you see the world. He let people be their best and assumed they were doing the right things. He was always gentle in his reminders and you got the sense he cared deeply for all his staff and was passionate about the community. There were numerous times he stepped in to help staff members and people in the community solve problems or to give support. His daily presence is deeply missed.
In 1999, the store changed ownership, first to Ron Scher and then again, within a year or so, to Peter Aaron, the current owner. At first I was skeptical that the transition was going to be a good one. Change can be difficult, especially for booksellers, but it had to be better than closing our doors. The competition had chipped away at us, the staff hadn’t received raises in the last few years, sales had dwindled, and we were faced with the possibility of lay-offs. Frankly, I don’t know where the profit-sharing checks Walt handed out that last year came from.
I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like working for Peter, as he’s harder to get to know than Walter, and it took a while to transition. Although Peter is different than Walter, he shares the same passion and compassion for the world that Walter does. He spent time with each staff member listening to his or her ideas one on one. He took the time to genuinely get to know each person on staff. Fourteen years later, he is more passionate about the bookstore than ever. The move to Capitol Hill gave us all a new outlook, but for Peter it was the opportunity to see growth in his bookstore for the first time.
Before we moved the store in 2010, I wasn’t sure we would be able to make the move within the two week allotted slot, or even as a cohesive team. Declining sales, slow days and the overall atmosphere of lethargy had settled in. Yet, when the time came, the crew pulled together and packed up every single book, the furnishings and the fixtures and enthusiastically made the trek.
We now have new life up on the hill. Many of our longtime customers still make the hike up from Pioneer Square. We have children in the store now and regular story hours, something we hadn’t had for years. Our expanded customer base is evident throughout the day, as the deliberate early morning browsers shift to students and professionals between classes and appointments in the afternoon. Our 7pm readings bring in groups of customers with a wide variety of common interests, before the late evening brings more relaxed, meandering browsing as folks stop by after dinner or on their way to the bars.
Every book on our shelves has been hand selected and placed there for you by a bookseller. We have the best people in the world working here. They tend to be writers or people between degrees or interested in writing or the publishing world at large. Many of our booksellers have gone on to become publisher sales reps, writers, librarian, or champions of the printed word in their communities. I know that the store is a little richer in heritage and tradition for each and every person who has worked here and put their passion into creating this magical place.
We are here, waiting to serve you, interested in what you just read and hoping you will ask us for a recommendation. Mostly, we just want to say thanks for supporting us. Thanks for keeping us here and we look forward to the next 40 years.
As for me, I want to say thanks to the literally hundreds of booksellers who have come and gone and come and stayed over the course these 40 years. You make this place what it is.