Every time I’ve visited in the three weeks that they’ve been open, the Seward Park branch of Third Place Books has been busy. The Raconteur café and restaurant in the front of the store is always slammed — it had to close for lack of food on opening day, which is a high-quality problem. And sometimes it’s hard to browse the books you want because someone else is already standing right where you want to be. (The comics at the front of the store are an especially attractive destination for couples out on a first date.) Some of this, obviously, is just the shock of the new: people love to visit a new restaurant, a new bookstore.
But there’s more to it than that. The south side of Seattle has always been underserved so far as books go. The Bookworm Exchange has been around for a long time, but those looking for a general-interest bookstore oftentimes would be better served by going to the Tukwila Barnes & Noble than visiting any of the great bookstores available to the north half of the city. And as traffic in Seattle gets worse, that north-south divide becomes more and more glaring.
Seattle is a city that’s divided by more than just traffic. When Third Place Seward Park opened, people on Facebook protested the schedule of author appearances to celebrate the store’s launch: all the authors were white, which failed to represent the diverse community surrounding their store. Third Place Books managing partner Robert Sindelar and Seward Park’s general manager Eric McDaniel acknowledged the tone-deafness of the lineup. They immediately offered to meet with people to talk about the issue, and they’ve been having conversations ever since.
That opening slate of author appearances was a mistake, but ever since it’s opened the store has been learning from the community, and vice versa. On any given visit, you’ll see a diverse group of browsers. Displays have gone up that reflect the community’s interest. Popular titles like Between the World and Me and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen are on multiple displays throughout the store, but on a recent visit the table by the entrance featured an array of books on the topic of race, and the table was being heavily browsed. Things are not perfect, but they’re better.
Third Place Seward Park is our June Bookstore of the Month; every Monday we’ll feature interviews with booksellers and other examinations of what it means to open a bookstore in south Seattle in 2016. If you have any thoughts on the bookstore that you’d like to share, please drop us a line; we’d love to talk.