Barbara Bailey, whose bookshop Bailey/Coy Books was a hub of literary and community activity on Capitol Hill for more than two decades, died September 1 at the age of 74.
The cause of death was a stroke, said her brother Thatcher Bailey.
“Capitol Hill would not be Capitol Hill, were it not for Barbara,” Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan wrote in a statement Tuesday. “She went to school there, lived there, built a business there and cheered the neighborhood on like few others. No LGBTQ+ person would have been elected to any office in this region were it not for Barbara Bailey. She always stood by her principles, and she inspired others through her work.”
An avid reader, Ms. Bailey came to bookselling after a varied career that included the Peace Corps, a stint as a juvenile parole officer, and other jobs, said her brother. While living for a time in Sun Valley, she took a job at a small bookstore, loved it, and bought the place. Upon returning to her hometown in Seattle, she became one of the first leaseholders in the then-brand-new Rainier Square downtown, where she opened B. Bailey Books in 1977. With Michael Coy, she opened a bigger shop on Broadway in 1982. It would soon be named Bailey/Coy Books.
Both shops were general bookstores with a variety of books on all subjects, but they were also, wrote Durkan, “safe and welcoming spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for those just coming out and during the height of anti-LGBTQ+ actions.” Many Seattle readers remember carrying Bailey/Coy customer loyalty cards in our wallets, and enjoying the enticing tables of books near the entrance, the carefully curated inventory (I remember, in particular, a wonderfully rich selection of literary biographies), and the friendly staff.
“She was such a connector, and had such a great head for business,” her brother Thatcher said. “She read like a fiend. She was part of the literary world in Seattle, but that was less important to her than just welcoming the community into her store, and making it a very comfortable place for everyone.”
In 2003, Ms. Bailey retired from the book business and sold the shop to Michael Wells. It closed its doors in 2009, a time when many independent bookstores in Seattle were struggling.
Though the shop took up much of her time, Ms. Bailey lent her energy to numerous other causes. “Barbara championed civil rights here in Seattle for communities of color and for the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Durkan. “From the AIDS crisis, to the fight for equal rights, to marriage equality — Barb was on the front lines helping in any way she could and was always leading with her energy and her heart. She hosted countless fundraisers for organizations, candidates and causes close to her heart. There was no job too big or too small for Barbara Bailey.”
Her brother remembered Ms. Bailey’s “megawatt smile” and her gift of bringing people together. “She made everything so much fun,” he said. “I think her only fear in life — she was very fearless — the only fear was leaving someone out. So many people considered her their best friend. There really was plenty to go around.”
In addition to her brother Thatcher, Ms. Bailey is survived by her partner Barbara Calvo, and her siblings Bruce and Mary Ann Bailey. A memorial service will be held on Oct. 21 at the Lakeside School at 3 p.m.; all are welcome. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a contribution to the Barbara Bailey Scholarship Fund at the Pride Foundation.
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