Lit Life

Couth Buzzard Books, just a few blocks downwind of the library on Greenwood Avenue North, looks like it has been there forever, in the nicest of ways.

Thousands of books — mostly used, but a few new — crowd the shelves, both horizontally and vertically; overlapping notices flutter on a bulletin board; curious bits of memorabilia (a psychedelic guitar?), along with art and crafts for sale, are wedged in wherever space can be found. And, on a recent midweek morning, a steady stream of customers — all of whom seemed like regulars — dropped by to drink coffee, chat about politics, compare notes on Thanksgiving turkey plans, study in the back room, read with their child in a cozy armchair … in other words, to find moments of connection in a bookstore that’s not just a retail shop, but a neighborhood hub.

“Forever” is a tricky thing in the bookstore business — which makes the milestones Couth Buzzard is celebrating this month all the more remarkable. Owner Theo Dzielak is celebrating 10 years this month at the current location, and 30 years total on Greenwood Avenue: the store previously operated a few blocks south, next to Ken’s Market, from 1988 to 2008.

The Couth Buzzard is marking the occasion with a grand, all-day anniversary celebration on Saturday, Dec. 14, with live music, a silent auction, special guests and a festive gathering open to all.

Dzielak, who managed the store at its previous location before assuming ownership of the current one, said Couth Buzzard isn’t just a bookstore — the business, he said, wouldn’t have lasted if that were the case. Instead, it’s a multifaceted shop that’s also an old-school coffeehouse and café (the pizza and brownies are made in-house; sandwiches and other snacks are brought in), a live music venue and a neighborhood center. In the first week of December alone, scheduled in-store events include Zumba, mindfulness, watercolor painting, current-events discussion, yoga, Girl Scouts, board game night, two book clubs, a writers group and several music events, including an open mic night.

“We can’t compete price-wise,” said Dzielak, of the competitive business of selling used and new books, “but we can provide a community space.”


(By the way, if you’re wondering where that name came from: Dzielak said the store’s original owners, back in 1988, wanted an unusual, memorable name, “like the pubs in England.” Because they planned to sell coffee and books, words starting with “C” and “B” came to mind: “Couth is middle English for well-mannered. Buzzards are the recyclers of nature. At that time they sold only used books, so the books were recycled.” It’s definitely a name customers remember.)

Like many indie bookstores, Couth Buzzard is beloved by its neighborhood — which has stepped up to help out when needed. A 2018 GoFundMe campaign to help the store with expenses exceeded its goal of $9,500, with more than 150 individual donors. And Friends of Couth Buzzard — “a small, informal group of people who love the store and want it to continue to thrive,” explained member Karen Schneider — is organizing the silent auction for the Dec. 14 celebration. Those funds will be used, Dzielak said, for general improvements: tables, chairs, rugs, espresso machine, dishwasher, refrigeration units, lighting.

“We’re trying to help him because it’s such a wonderful community place,” said Anne Engstrom, a member of several groups that meet at Couth Buzzard. “It just means a lot to everybody.”

Schneider says she calculated that some 42 different groups meet at the store regularly, not counting numerous gatherings that are less formally organized. (Couth Buzzard operates on a donation basis for events and meetings, though visitors are encouraged to purchase a cup of coffee, a brownie or a book.) The store, she said, is a sort of “Cheers” for the neighborhood — a place where everybody knows your name. “It’s the only place that I know of that you can walk into that space and just feel at home,” Schneider said. “You talk to people — strangers talk to each other there all the time.”

Dzielak hopes this isn’t the last anniversary for Couth Buzzard; he’s currently negotiating a renewal of the store’s lease, and plans to continue the eclectic mix of programming there — all the more needed now, with small independent venues disappearing all over town. (In Greenwood alone, Naked City Brewery and Green Bean Coffee House both closed in the past year.)

It is, he says, a different kind of business model for a bookstore — the previous incarnation of Couth Buzzard wasn’t as much of a gathering space — but one that’s needed, one that gets people out of their homes and connecting with each other. Asked to describe his business philosophy, Dzielak said it was simple: Couth Buzzard is about “building community — one cup, one book, one note at a time.”


Couth Buzzard Books, 8310 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle; 206-436-2960, Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; grand anniversary celebration all day Saturday, Dec. 14.