Bookstores in Seattle

Timothy J. McMannon, December 2004

You've just spent three hours wandering through the exhibit hall and you thought you and a few friends might get together for—what else?—a little book shopping. You're in the right place: Seattle was recently ranked the second most literate city in the country, partly because of the number of bookstores in town (see www.uww.edu/ npa/cities/allrank.html). Some of the best are within reasonable walking distance of the Convention Center and conference hotels or accessible via free downtown Metro Transit bus lines.

Pioneer Square, at the south end of the downtown core, is not only the birthplace of Seattle, but also home to several fine bookstores. With its creaking wood floors, exposed brick walls, and wide selection of new and used titles, the Elliott Bay Book Company (at 1st Ave. S. and S. Main) is quintessentially Seattle. Check www.elliottbaybook.com for recommendations, signings, readings, and more. Nearby, you'll find Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers (208 First Ave. S.) and David Ishii, Bookseller (212 First Ave. S.), both of which buy and sell used and vintage books. (Read more about David Ishii's store and his fascinating life at seattletimes.nwsource.com/pacificnw/2004/0229/cover.html.) For new or out-of-print books pertaining to any of the life sciences, visit Flora and Fauna Books (121 1st Ave. S., www.ffbooks.net). The Seattle Mystery Bookshop (117 S. Cherry St., www.seattlemystery.com) is in the historic Broderick Building (constructed in 1894 as the Baily Building). Browse for new and used whodunits, thrillers, true crime stories, and more.

Farther north and closer to the Convention Center and hotels, a small branch of the University Bookstore (1225 Fourth Ave., www.ubookstore com) specializes in business and computer books as well as discounted bestsellers. (University of Washington fans will be appalled to know that this branch stocks as much Washington State University Cougar gear as it does Husky products, but the Pope Innocent III action figure—I'm serious—almost makes up for this breach of etiquette.)
Near the popular Pike Place Market, visit M. Coy Books (117 Pine St.) and enjoy an espresso while you peruse the small but intriguing selection. The coverage of current events and politics is particularly good. For maps, globes, games, and books on geography and travel, Metsker Maps (1511 First Ave., www.metskers.com) is the place to go. Left Bank Books (92 Pike St. #B) stocks left-oriented history, political studies, and current issues.

If the chains are more your style, you can find Barnes & Noble in the lower level of Pacific Place, Seattle's most upscale downtown mall (at Sixth Ave. and Pine). Borders (1501 Fourth Ave., just southwest of Westlake Center) has a good selection of books and an extensive array of music and periodicals. The closest Half Price Books, for used and new books at—you guessed it—half price, is east of downtown on Capitol Hill (115 Belmont Ave. E.).

For visitors with cars or a willingness to travel by cab or bus, two other bookstores deserve special mention. The main branch of the University Book Store (4326 University Way NE, www.ubookstore.com) is about three miles northeast of downtown in the U District. Among the best college bookstores in the country, it stocks not only a huge selection of fiction and nonfiction books, but also gifts, greeting cards, stationery, souvenirs, and clothes. Visit the basement to see what books your counterparts on the faculty of the University of Washington Seattle are assigning for their history classes. Finally, in Lake Forest Park, some 10 miles north of downtown Seattle, Third Place Books puts into practice the idea of Ray Oldenberg (in The Great Good Place) that people need a “third place”—not home and not work or school—to interact and build community. In addition to selling new and used books, therefore, Third Place Books provides a place where people come to “browse, linger, lounge, relax, read, eat, laugh, play, talk, listen, and just watch the world go by” (www.thirdplacebooks.com). It's worth the trip to experience a very different kind of bookstore.

— Timothy J. McMannon, a member of the Local Arrangements Committee, is a history instructor at Highline Community College.