Booktree and Open Books help uphold a Pacific Northwest tradition.
The author Ann Patchett (“Bel Canto,” “State of Wonder,” “Commonwealth”) owns a bookstore, Parnassus Books, in her hometown of Nashville, Tenn. “I have no interest in retail; I have no interest in opening a bookstore,” she told The New York Times, at the time of the store’s opening. “But I also have no interest in living in a city without a bookstore.”
It’s a sentiment that resonates with Mary Harris, former co-owner of Parkplace Books (which closed in December). Last week, with co-owner Christopher Jarmick, she opened a new store in Kirkland: Booktree, named for the fanciful wooden sculpture of a tree — complete with shelving space for books — that once graced the children’s room at Parkplace. The shop, with the tree having pride of place by the front window, is now one of the Eastside’s only single independent bookstores (along with Island Books on Mercer Island).
“That’s how I was feeling — how could I live in a town without a bookstore?” Harris said, in an interview last month. “What independent bookstores are is a gathering place for a community, for an exchange of ideas.”
If you go
Open daily, 609 Market St., Kirkland (425-202-7791 or booktreekirkland.com).
Open Books: A Poem Emporium
Open Tuesdays-Sundays, 2414 N. 45th St., Seattle (206-633-0811 or openpoetrybooks.com).
And, increasingly, independent bookstores are thriving: The American Booksellers Association (ABA) reported this year that its membership has grown for the seventh consecutive year. Though Amazon.com and chain bookstores (remember when Borders was a thing?) initially seemed to pose a threat to brick-and-mortar indies, customers are newly yearning for that gathering place Harris mentions.
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This year, the ABA reports the number of locations for independently owned bookstores has grown to 2,311, up from 2,227 in 2015 and just 1,651 in 2009.
The Pacific Northwest has long been blessed with a robust collection of independent bookstores — and with bookstore owners determined to continue traditions. Harris was herself a longtime employee at Parkplace Books before buying it, with Rebecca Willow, in 2002.
After their landlord announced other plans for the building, Harris, with Jarmick (who had run the poetry program at Parkplace), spent much of 2016 looking for a new location, finally finding just the right spot on Market Street, in a historic building’s retail space that most recently housed a hair salon. (They took out the sinks but kept the jazzy silver front counter.)
And, in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, another new bookstore owner has stepped up. Billie Swift, a poet and editor, was dismayed to hear that the longtime owners of Open Books, one of the country’s few poetry-only bookstores, were retiring and putting the shop up for sale. Though, like Patchett, she hadn’t envisioned herself as a bookstore owner, the decision to purchase it came out of “panic,” she said, at the idea that the store “might not be here.”
Unlike Harris, Swift is a novice at what she described as “the remarkably Byzantine ins and outs of ordering and distribution.” But she’s learning quickly, after seeking advice from other independent bookstore owners and attending their meetings (“It was like being in a room full of my superheroes”).
The store, which stocks about 10,000 new and used poetry titles, had a grand reopening in September after several weeks’ closure.
Swift hopes to continue in the tradition of previous owners John Marshall and Christine Deavel in making Open Books a meeting place for Seattle’s poetry community, hosting readings and events at the store (including weekly “Winnie the Pooh” story hours) and reaching out beyond its walls.
Likewise, Harris and Jarmick look forward to hosting events at their cozy Booktree space. (The bookshelves are all on casters and can be rolled back to make room for rows of chairs for readings.) They’ll be stocking about 20,000 titles, with an emphasis on new fiction, books for children and teens and on book-club service.
They have been thrilled to see strong community support, even before their doors opened earlier this month. Harris said that 150 to 200 people have helped make Booktree a reality, many of whom were former Parkplace Books customers who wrote checks to help the new business get started. “I think we will open the business with positive cash flow,” said Jarmick, gratitude evident in his voice.
Deavel, in a farewell message on Open Books’ website, nicely summed up why the bookstore tradition is alive and well. “This love of reading, of books, of poetry, of independent bookstores, this love of mine — of ours — does not exist in isolation,” she wrote. “How thrilling is that?”
Information in this story has been corrected, after an original misstatement about the number of independent bookstores on the Eastside.