It’s not hard to deduce why Seattle Mystery Bookshop was in financial trouble — rising rents, falling foot traffic, advent of online bookselling. The solution was elementary: turn to crowdfunding for help.
The phrase “nine lives” comes to mind when I think of Seattle Mystery Bookshop. This bookstore, on street level at 117 Cherry St. between Seattle’s First and Second avenues, has been attracting mystery authors and crime-fiction fans since it opened in 1990.
It has seen the death of its founder, endured the Great Recession, surfed wave after wave of uncertainty as the Pioneer Square neighborhood has moved through its advances and retreats. And, last but not least, the advent of online bookselling, which has sent many a bookstore to an early closing.
The last couple years have been tough. The store moved into a bigger space and then discovered there wasn’t enough foot traffic to support the increased rent. The staff volunteered to cut back their hours. One employee left at the end of the year, needing more hours than the store could provide.
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Mystery fans are a quirky, passionate lot (I guess I could say the same about mystery writers — at least the ones I have met). We’re fascinated with crime and mayhem, and yet we want to impose order on it.
At the first of the year, SMB owner JB Dickey, egged on by one of his loyal employees, decided to try out an online fundraising campaign. Through GoFundMe, Dickey put out a call to bookstore fans for $50,000 — to pay off back rent and some other outstanding bills; to restock the store; to get some breathing space.
There is some ossification of my old-school brain that has a hard time believing this sort of thing works. Dickey himself was skeptical. Wrong again.
The store quickly heard from “a mix of old customers we don’t see anymore, new customers, authors and strangers who just want to help,” Dickey said, adding: The response is “exceeding our wildest dreams.”
In a very short time, the store has raised more than $32,000 and has already paid its back rent and a couple other outstanding bills.
The author response has been extraordinary. Seattle-based mystery author Mike Lawson donated a dozen books, all signed first editions, one copy each of all his published books. Internationally known author Cara Black made a donation, as did Hallie Ephron, as did Charlaine Harris, as did Lisa Lutz.
Local authors who donated include Greg Rucka, Curt Colbert, Jeanne Matthews, Bill Cameron, Kevin O’Brien, Lono Waiwaiole, Larry Karp, Mike Lawson, Leslie Budewitz, Glen Erik Hamilton and Kat Richardson, as well as a number of authors who wished to remain anonymous.
Dickey says the campaign does not guarantee the store’s future. While Pioneer Square seems to be on the upswing, parking remains a terrible problem (at least all Seattle neighborhoods are feeling that pain). “There’s the perception that there’s more homelessness and crime here than anyone else,” says Dickey. “There’s also a sense of suspension over Bertha. Is it going to work, will it get stuck again, what’s going to happen when the viaduct comes down?”
I give Dickey and his staff enormous credit for persistence, and I told him that. He made some typically self-deprecating remark, then he said:
“Every time some mystery shop closes, people felt like they lost their shop and they wished their shop had said something. So we just decided to be the shop that asks for help.”
I think it was my high-school basketball coach who said — or was it a country-western singer? — that you cannot win if you do not play.
For more information on the campaign, which runs through Feb. 15, go to gofundme.com/seattlemystery.