Independent Bookstores: Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle

Last month I made my first trip to Seattle. We were there to visit some friends who live in the area, and they dedicated their whole weekend to giving us an amazing tour of the city — and making sure we ate like kings several times a day.

Because our tour guides know about (and share, to a healthy degree) my affinity for books, our very first stop (after breakfast, of course) was Elliott Bay Book Company. One of Seattle’s foremost independent bookstores, Elliott Bay has been around since 1973, and it’s been on my bookstore bucket list for almost as many years.

When we walked into the store, I knew right away that this was a good one. The books extended as far back as I could see, with carefully curated selections on every endcap, handwritten staff recommendations dotting the wooden shelves, a coffee shop in the back, and an upstairs whose low ceilings made it feel like a treasure-filled attic.

Elliott Bay was unique among indies for its vast selection. Like Austin’s BookPeople they seemed to stock a little bit of everything, from genre fiction to literary masterpieces, to glossy coffee table books, and even an entire wall full of coloring books.

But what really stood out to me was the focus on community. Like many bookstores, Elliott Bay promoted books by local authors but, even beyond that, the store is very clearly designed to start conversations and make shoppers feel like part of something a little bigger. This was evident in the front-of-store curated selections, which included bestsellers and staff recs, but went even further, to include local ‘zines and a section of “Great Books to Inspire Great Conversation.” The end-caps, too, were largely focused on community promotion, with categories like “Drunk Booksellers Recommend.” And even the hand-written shelf-talkers (one of my favorite features of many independents) went beyond the books themselves, encouraging readers to connect with each other over their shared interests.

Thanks again to Kelsey and Matt for a great weekend and the perfect introduction to Seattle. I’m looking forward to finding more excuses to explore the city, and can’t wait to return to Elliott Bay Book Company.