Like the rest of the greater Seattle area, downtown Burien has grown at a remarkable clip over the last decade. New restaurants, bank branches and yoga studios are popping up faster than even locals can keep track. But growth always brings with it some attendant pain; as demand increases, so do rent prices.
“There are small businesses that really want to be a part of the community,” Page 2 Books co-owner Jenny Cole says about downtown Burien. “But unless you own the building, it’s really, really hard.” Page 2 is a Burien business through and through — the shop has served the community for more than three decades. Cole, a regular customer with no previous bookstore experience, bought Page 2 from its retiring owners about six years ago. She immediately moved the shop to the heart of Burien’s downtown core and says “it’s just grown and grown” ever since.
Earlier this year, all that growth caught up to Page 2: The store was reaching the end of its lease and the landlord was significantly raising the rent. Cole loved the location, a short walking distance from restaurants and shops and theaters and other arts destinations, but the store couldn’t stay. The quest stretched far and wide, spanning several months. Cole says other cities in the region tried to woo Page 2 to their neighborhoods. But ultimately, the search ended “about 20 feet away,” Cole says, laughing.
In late September, thanks to the store’s five employees and a whale of a wooden library cart built by Cole’s brother, Page 2’s roughly 35,000 books moved directly across the street, to a renovated storefront at 560 S.W. 152nd St. (The old space has already flipped into a bright white taekwondo studio with signs promising “Self-Control” and “Indomitable Spirit” in the front windows.)
Cole says the new space, vacant for a decade, was formerly nothing but “a concrete shell.” Adding plumbing, electricity, walls and bookshelves — custom-built by her brothers for the space — “really was a major project.” But all that work has resulted in a bright and homey store that feels like it’s been there for years. When you walk in, the entire right-hand side of the shop is given over to kids books of all kinds. Cole estimates that “the children’s section right now is at least 10 to 15 times as big as it was when we initially bought the store” in 2013.
Page 2 stocks a blend of new and used titles. Most of the new, hot bestsellers you’d expect to see are here: “Catch and Kill” by Ronan Farrow, “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Rachel Maddow’s “Blowout.” But browsers can also find huge bargains in the stacks, with like-new paperbacks for less than $10. Customers will frequently buy in-demand books, read them, then sell them back to the store for credit, meaning that it’s not unusual to find like-new hardcover copies of Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys” on the shelves for about half the retail price.
Over the years, Page 2’s stock has been shaped by its loyal customer base. The biggest single section — mysteries and thrillers — stretches along the entire left-hand side of the shop. There’s a large romance section, as well as one of the biggest railroad sections I’ve seen in a bookstore — possibly a side effect of being just a block down the street from the Electric Train Shop, an emporium for model-train enthusiasts. Cole says that thanks to the store’s proximity to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the Northwest and travel sections are both huge sellers, too.
Cole also has a knack for creating community book clubs with brilliant premises. One of Page 2’s ongoing book clubs never features the same type of book twice. “I got tired of people coming in and going to the same section — sometimes the same shelf — every time they came in,” Cole says. She wanted to encourage her customers to “try something new.” The club has bounced around from sci-fi to mystery to children’s books to anthropology. Cole says Ernest Cline’s ’80s-nostalgia-soaked sci-fi adventure “Ready Player One” was a recent surprise: “I thought this just wasn’t my type of book, but I was hooked from the first page.”
And earlier this month, Cole launched a new “Pride and Prejudice” book club. For the inaugural meeting on Sunday, Dec. 1, the group will discuss Jane Austen’s classic. And then, once a month for the next year, the club is going to discuss various adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice” and other Austen-centric books. In January, they’re going to read a graphic-novel interpretation. A biography of Austen is in the queue, along with various novels that have adapted “Pride and Prejudice” across time and space.
The shop is settling in comfortably — it doesn’t feel like the staff or clientele missed a beat during the move. The store is “a family affair,” Cole says, and customer interest remains high. When she got the news about the rent increase this year, she never considered closing. And despite the offers, she never seriously entertained the idea of moving Page 2 away from its neighbors. “This is a Burien bookshop,” Cole says, definitively.
One of the novels that has most entranced Page 2’s staff and customers lately is William Kent Krueger’s “This Tender Land,” a Great Depression-set novel about four orphans on an odyssey. “Somebody described it as Dickens on the Mississippi,” owner Jenny Cole says. “It’s a beautiful adventure story that’s just very well done.”
Among the shop’s most popular kids books is “Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey” by Portland author Emily Winfield Martin. “We have her books here, as well as some of her art prints and her puzzles,” Cole says. Children love “the soft colors” in the book, while parents will fall for the “beautiful, sweet old vintage-y style” of Martin’s art.
Page 2 Books also serves as the home bookstore for three bestselling Northwest authors: romantic-suspense novelists Jayne Ann Krentz (author, most recently, of “Untouchable”) and Christina Dodd (“Strangers She Knows”) and mystery author Stella Cameron (“Trap Lane”). On their websites and in promotional materials, the three prolific authors, who have sold many millions of copies among them, direct their fans to Page 2 as the worldwide supplier of their autographed first editions.
Cole and her staff ship the books to all 50 states and beyond: “I just sent some to Canada last week,” she says. “We often send to England, and I shipped some to Japan and Germany recently, too.” The authors appreciate having a trustworthy source for their fans to reach out to, fans love having a personal supplier for the latest titles from their favorite authors, and the local independent bookstore enjoys the sales and increased customer base. Cole says of the authors and their fans, “we really appreciate their support.”
Page 2 Books, 560 S.W. 152nd St., Burien; 206-248-7248, page2books.indielite.org