Our October Bookstore of the Month, Louis Collins Books, is in a bright blue building at the intersection of 12th and Denny. Collins has been selling books out of this building for decades, and he’s been in the book business for nearly 50 years. Since he does most of his business online, Louis Collins Books is only open for browsing by appointment. I’d urge you to make an appointment: it’s a beautiful space, completely taken over by used and rare books. But unlike the chaos of some used bookstores, everything in Louis Collins Books seems highly organized.
Collins lives in the building, and he invites me back into his kitchen, which is also lined with books, for an interview. “The front of the store is all general art and literature and all that," he explains. “Back here is anthropology, Alaskan history, obscure archaeology texts, ethnomusicology, that kind of thing.”
Collins buys most of his books in the form of personal libraries — and many of the libraries he’s buying these days, he notes, have been bought in pieces over the years at Louis Collins Books. He points over at three shelves in the corner of the kitchen. “I bought a wonderful collection from a woman who specialized in the folk songs of southeast Asia,” Collins says. The collection used to take up a couple whole bookshelves in the kitchen, but after he made the books available to his online customers, it’s now down to a few shelves.
Walking around Louis Collins Books, you’ll see a number of books you simply can’t find anywhere else. If you were to survey random people on the street, most of them would likely say that every book ever published exists online. That’s not anywhere close to true. Collins estimates that when he enters his collection into online databases, nearly half of his books aren’t available at any other online retailers. Finding those one-of-a-kind titles seems to be a source of great pride for him.
I ask Collins if he likes shopping at any local bookstores. Unequivocally, the answer is yes. “This is a great book town, and it’s always had great bookstores here,” Collins says. When he was a rare and antiquarian bookseller in San Francsisco, he used to make book-buying trips to Seattle to replenish his supply. “There have always been very good customers here, too,” he says.
But is it hard to find rare books in a part of the world that’s had books in it for less than two centuries? Collins says Seattle has always been home to impressive book collectors, and when you look back to shipping manifests from the city’s earliest days, you’ll find large shipments of books from England arriving in the city on a regular basis. This is a city that has always embraced book-lovers. In his little blue shop on Capitol Hill, Collins is continuing a long tradition of Seattle-based sellers of rare and unique books.