Thursday, December 10, 2009

Elliot Bay

Oog. I am currently hip-deep in hip-deepness at work. What could bestir me from my appointed and exhausting tasks? What could rate over reviews, comments, thinking about dwarves as Greeks, Call of Cthulhu as Old School Gaming, and other minutia?

This. Elliot Bay Book Company is relocating from its digs in Pioneer Square up to Capitol Hill, into a low building/former garage next to the Oddfellow's Hall between Pike and Pine. From a beautiful (but creaky) brick building that dominated its corner to a (hopefully to be renovated) structure with smaller total space but more "selling space", situated off in a near-alleyway off the two main east-west streets that cross lower Broadway.

I like Elliot Bay. It is a "first choice" bookstore when I'm looking for a particular new volume. It has sections you don't find in the Big Boxes. Heck, it has BOOKS you don't find in the Big Boxes. It is worth an excuse to go into the city. I like its selection, its help and its ambiance. It has good sections and organization, and it is extremely strong in supporting the writing community.

I also like it, though, as a building. I like the creaky floors and exposed brickwork and multiple levels and small stairs. I like the downstairs area, with its coffee shop and massive amount of space to read and talk. I've worked on books down there, and read while Kate was at Saturday morning Tai Chi, listening to a regular Saturday morning group of astrologers talking about their stock portfolios. I like their performance space, low-ceilinged as it is, and I've listened to Alton Brown and Kij Johnson there and kicked myself innumerable times for not catching other writers as well.

But by the same token, I recognize I am a tourist - I come in from Outer Exurbia, mostly on the weekends and in daylight. The neighborhood can be sketchy at times, but I've hit bookstores in Chicago that in nastier parts of town. My big concern is always parking, and beneath the viaduct is an ideal location, free on weekends and within easy walking distance (The viaduct will now go away as well). And my book purchases are few as I always seem to be playing catchup with my reading. So am I and those like me enough to keep a bookstore moored at Pioneer Square. No. I help, but probably not enough.

So when the press release talks about parking issues, I am unimpressed. I've taken classes in the Oddfellow Hall, and know that parking in the new location is a pain in the kiester on Cap Hill, particularly on weekends (which is my book-brousing time). And safety? Its current region has a slew of urban challenges, but Cap Hill is hardly Kent Commons when it comes to bars, questionable characters, and incidents. I've had scarier encounters with homeless individuals in Cal Anderson Park than in Pioneer Park.

In short, I'm sorry to see Elliot Bay leave its location, and hope that its departure does not create a black hole that sucks in the other smaller bookstores in its orbit. But I note that moving to a "reader's neighborhood" does not guarantee success - Bailey/Coy went under just recently there, and a couple used bookstores I used to frequent, like Pistil, no longer exist in meatspace.

Brick and mortar print is a tough sell, and I hope that the new digs can maintain the charm and raw usefulness of the old. It is a major expenditure to relocate tons of books and an entire culture up the hill, and I hope that it works out. But I will miss the spacious basement and its exposed brick. And the astrologers with their stock portfolios.

More later,