Danielle and David Hulton didn’t know anything about running a bookstore when they founded Ada’s Technical Books five years ago. That’s probably for the best — the bookselling industry has been dying for at least four decades, according to the bookselling industry. Experienced booksellers tend to get so mired in gloom and doom that they’d likely never get around to opening a new bookstore. Sometimes it takes a novice to get it right.
Ada’s Technical Books started as a small science-minded bookstore (“for the cravings of the technical mind,” says the website) in an unexceptional space at the north end of Broadway. In 2013, the Hultons moved the store into a house on 15th Ave E, adding a cafe, a reading room, and expanding the stock significantly, including a larger science fiction section and more scientific paraphernalia like little robot-building kits and an array of puzzles. (Longtime Seattle book-lovers recognize Ada’s space as the old home to used bookseller Horizon Books.) This is the kind of bold move that you wouldn’t expect a bookstore to make in the 21st century, but it’s certainly paid off for Ada’s. And they’re still expanding the idea of what a bookstore can do; last year, the store opened up a coworking space in the attic providing work stations and a pair of meeting rooms for people in need of a professional work environment.
Ada’s succeeds because it’s a thoughtful enterprise. So much detail has gone into making the store a welcoming experience, on every level. The cafe serves excellent food made from scratch, not just a bunch of previously frozen baked goods from the back of a Sysco truck. The staff’s expertise shows in the books they carry: Ada’s doesn’t have every book on geography, computer science, or astronomy, but they do carry the best books on those topics. The store is home to an array of book clubs hosted by passionate booksellers, as well as a monthly puzzle night and a proudly geeky event series. They host an annual Buckminster Fuller party, and a bimonthly science discussion club.
It’s a little tricky to describe Ada’s to the uninitiated: the words “technical book store” sound a little intimidating. Tell someone that Ada’s primarily carries science books, and odds are good you’ll watch that person’s eyes glaze over. But what becomes readily apparent when you walk in the door at Ada’s is that there is something there for everyone. The childrens’ books and science fiction sections have grown in the years since the store moved to 15th, to better suit the neighborhood. If you spend five minutes browsing the stacks you’ll find something — a biography, a how-to manual, a study of brain chemistry— that grabs your interest and refuses to let go. Ada’s happily provides proof that we can find universality in specificity.