You can call it “The Mystery of the Corner Store at U Village.” The big wonder is whether Amazon has any part in it.
White plastic sheets block out light and wandering eyes at a corner store in Seattle’s University Village. A light is on inside, but secrecy shrouds the area. A nearby construction worker, taking apart a cabinet for another U Village project, said workers on the corner site call the project the “mystery store” because no one knows what’s going into the former Blue C Sushi space. The one thing he knows is there are bookshelves inside.
An unusual amount of confidentiality surrounds the project. A permit listed for electrical work cites the owner as “Project Anne,” a name with no business license in the state.
A vendor named on several other permits declined to comment, saying he would need permission from the client on the “confidential” project.
Rumors are flying, mostly sparked by a Thursday article in the online book newsletter Shelf Awareness. The article suggests the mystery tenant could be Amazon.com, opening its first retail-bookstore location.
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It’s possible. Opening a physical retail store has become the new vogue thing for e-commerce companies. Warby Parker, an online eyewear company, set up shop in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. Smaller outdoor online retailers MiiR and Evo are expanding their physical retail presences in the city.
The U-Village management office declined to comment on the space, a receptionist saying only there is a new tenant and things are being kept quiet.
Shelf Awareness reports that another city document shows the tenant is “Ann Bookstore,” another name without a business license in the state.
Amazon does seem to be up to something within its bookseller roots. Robert Sindelar, managing partner at the popular Seattle shop Third Place Books, said a few of his booksellers were contacted by Amazon recruiters on LinkedIn. The booksellers didn’t follow up with the recruiter, but from what they could tell, the project seemed related to a retail establishment.
U Village’s proximity to the University of Washington has added to rumors of Amazon’s possible entrance.
Local bookstore owners aren’t concerned yet. Rumors have flown for years that Amazon would open a physical store, and none has come to fruition.
Even if Amazon does so, independent owners aren’t sure it would be a threat.
“I don’t think Amazon knows how to run a brick-and-mortar store,” said Thom Chambliss, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. “ … We have independent bookstores that are set up a couple blocks from each other, and they aren’t a threat. They usually have different emphases.”
But the location is tempting. In fact, with its proximity to the UW and the literary population of Seattle, it may be one of the best places in the country for a bookshop, said Pat Johnson and Dick Outcalt of Seattle-based Outcalt and Johnson: Retail Strategists.
“It makes a lot of sense for Amazon to open a bookstore in one of the best places in America to test selling retail books,” Outcalt said.
Amazon could also sell its own hardware, including Kindle e-readers, from the store, Johnson said.
Amazon representatives did not respond to a request for comment.