The historic Elliott Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, has been sold to the bookstore’s longtime manager and two married Capitol Hill bar and business owners.
Tracy Taylor, the company’s general manager for the past 32 years, is buying the famous Seattle bookstore along with husband-and-husband duo Murf Hall and Joey Burgess, who own several LGBTQ+ bars and other businesses in the neighborhood, including Queer/Bar, The Cuff Complex and The Woods. The sale was finalized June 1.
The new owners will be taking on a beloved Seattle institution which has hosted the likes of Raymond Carver, Hillary Clinton, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Anne Lamott, Amy Tan and, last month, Neil Gaiman. David Sedaris comes every year.
“If you can name them, they’ve been here,” Taylor said, sitting in the room where several of those authors have held events.
The trio didn’t disclose how much they paid for the bookstore. The company has weathered the pandemic well and its budget is in the black, Hall said, with “healthy” sales numbers returning to what they were before the pandemic.
They also reached a collective bargaining agreement last year with their employees’ newly formed union. A spokesperson for the Book Workers Union declined to comment on the sale.
The former owner, Peter Aaron, didn’t respond to a request for comment on why he was selling, but said in a news release that passing the bookstore on to these new owners felt like a successful exit.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as steward of this unique and wonderful haven of literature and civility for the past 23 years,” Aaron said in the statement, adding that the new owners’ “experience, energy, and talents make them ideally suited to ensure that the bookstore will continue to thrive and to maintain the standards and traditions which have been hallmarks of the business throughout the years.”
There are no immediate changes planned, although the three new owners have discussed incorporating the business they started in 2021 together, the “Big Little News” newsstand and curated subscription box service, a block down the street.
“We could also just keep it the way it is, right now, forever,” Hall said.
The buyers have an intimate connection to the bookstore. Taylor, who came from working at the famous Denver bookstore Tattered Cover in 1990, has been working at the store longer than Aaron, who became sole owner in 2009. She knew and worked with the bookstore’s original founders, Walter and Maggie Carr.
It was the Carrs who picked the company’s distinctive logo of a tri-mast ship with a waterfront lumber mill and Alki Point in the background.
“It’s exciting and it’s a little bit daunting” to be at the helm of that vessel now, Taylor said. “It’s a big, heavy ship.”
Burgess has been visiting Elliott Bay Book Company since 2006 when he first moved to Seattle; he met Taylor in the bookstore years ago and he and his husband got to know her via neighborhood business connections like the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s our favorite place to shop,” Burgess said. “And it’s just a very special, magical place. We couldn’t imagine it leaving, and having the opportunity to learn from Tracy, who’s been running the store for 30 years, is huge.”
Taylor agrees about the magic.
“You can be alone and come in here and not feel alone,” Taylor said.
When Burgess and Hall had their daughter in 2019, Hall came in and bought more than 30 books to read to her, including “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “The Giving Tree.”
The group will be the fourth owners the Elliott Bay Book Company has had since its opening in 1973. Aaron was CEO of Third Place Books when it was founded, and came to Elliott Bay Book Company as a partial owner when Third Place’s owner Ron Sher bought it from its founders Walter and Maggie Carr in 1999. Aaron then bought the store from Sher 10 years later and oversaw its bold move to Capitol Hill from Elliott Bay Book Company’s original location in Pioneer Square.
The Ford Building that now houses the bookstore was sold in 2017 to an affiliate of Mercer Island-based Keeler Investments Group. The lease is good until 2029, and the new owners have had conversations with the Keeler family — who own the building — about staying longer than that.
The book company and its most senior employee, head buyer Rick Simonson (who’s been there 13 years longer than Taylor), have been a key part of making Seattle a destination for author visits. That was not always the case: In the ‘70s, most publishers regarded the Pacific Northwest as “the hinterlands” and rarely sent authors here, Taylor said.
Now, Seattle is well known as a well-read city, and many would call Elliott Bay Book Company its direct center.
“As Dublin’s Abbey Theatre is to drama in Ireland, as Fenway Park is to baseball in Boston, Elliott Bay is to lovers of the written word in Seattle,” wrote Seattle author Timothy Egan for a Seattle Times piece on the bookstore’s 40th anniversary in 2013. “That’s why, on a gloomy, dark Tuesday night in January, a hundred or more people will crowd Elliott Bay to hear an author who may have thought he or she never had a following.”
Due to incorrect information provided to The Seattle Times, a previous version of this story misstated when Peter Aaron bought full ownership of Elliott Bay Book Company. He became sole owner in 2009.