In 2004, the beach town of Seabrook sprung up on the Olympic Peninsula, sandwiched between Moclips to the north and Ocean Shores to the south. Seabrook is the brainchild of Laura and Casey Roloff, who are carefully developing the town to feel like a dense and walkable urban core built right next to arguably the most beautiful stretch of beach in Washington state, a little less than three hours’ drive from Seattle. The idea of Seabrook caught on immediately, and the town has sprawled to almost 500 residences — a mix of adorable vacation rentals, condos and homes selling for anywhere between $550,000 and $2.7 million.
Vacationers who make annual pilgrimages to the peninsula have, over the last decade, watched Seabrook grow at an impressive clip: The selection of bars, shops and restaurants in the downtown area has expanded with each passing year. As with any brand-new development, the uniformity of architecture and economic status can evoke an eerie sensation of conformity. Seabrook residents self-consciously joke about living on the set of “The Truman Show,” while lifelong Olympic Peninsula residents can occasionally be heard grumbling about the “Stepford Wives” vibe of the town under their breaths.
But something happened in Seabrook a little less than two and a half years ago that made the new town feel a little less prefabricated and a little more genuine. On Market Street, not far from a candy store with a toe-curlingly magnificent selection of ice cream sandwich varieties, a little bookstore called Joie Des Livres: The Joy of Books opened its doors for the first time.
There’s something about a bookstore that instantly confers credibility and substance upon a community, especially when it’s an independent, family-owned affair. Seabrook vacationers Kathy and Dan Ardourel opened the bookshop in partnership with their daughter, Kristin Ardourel, who manages and operates the store with one other bookseller on staff.
“Running a bookstore was something I always wanted to do,” Kristin Ardourel says over the phone, “but I figured it would happen after I retired.”
Like everything else about Seabrook, Joie Des Livres is picture-perfect. “One of the things that people always say when they walk into the store for the first time is, ‘Gosh, it’s so much bigger on the inside,’” Ardourel says, laughing. This Halloween, she plans to disguise the entrance of the shop as the Tardis, the time-traveling phone booth that is packed full of an infinite array of rooms and corridors from one of her favorite sci-fi TV shows, “Doctor Who.”
When you walk into the high-ceilinged space, you’re greeted by a display of beautiful photography and coffee table books, with genre fiction and young adult literature on the left wall and nonfiction along the right. Tucked up in the back of the store is a cozy mezzanine with board games and literary fiction, and beneath the mezzanine is a section built just for children, with 5-foot ceilings, a wide selection of picture books and four brightly colored, kid-size reading cubbies.
The Ardourels had no bookstore experience among them when they opened Joie Des Livres, so Ardourel says she and her parents consulted a number of experts about how to stock the shelves. “We talked to the book buyer for Costco,” she says, “and a whole bunch of small, independent bookstores in the area,” including the owners and staff of Island Books on Mercer Island and Blind Dog Books, a bookstore in the Seabrook area that closed, helping inspire the Ardourels to open a shop of their own.
Since the store opened, customers have been shaping the store’s stock. “Because it’s a vacation town, I expected people to want vacation reads and light stories. But our nonfiction section’s growth has really surprised me,” Ardourel says. The memoir and local history sections have expanded dramatically.
“I love to cook and I love looking at cookbooks, so we had a decent selection when we opened but they just started flying off the shelf,” she says. “People were looking for Korean and Thai cuisine and books that they couldn’t find anywhere else, so it was really fun to research and expand our cookbook section.”
Still, Joie Des Livres is definitely a vacationers’ bookstore. Mixed in with the roughly 7,500 titles are beach-themed tote bags, tins of tea, art supplies, candles and crossword puzzles to brighten a cabin dweller’s stay on the coast. But Ardourel says Joie Des Livres is more than just the beach-bound equivalent of an airport bookshop: It’s also the only brick-and-mortar storefront selling new books for miles around.
“We get people from Ocean Shores, Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Taholah who come to us now,” Ardourel says. While there are a few excellent used bookstores in the area, Joie Des Livres has become a hub for peninsula residents to order the hot new titles that everyone’s talking about.
“During COVID, everybody’s really rallied around us, and all of the stores here in Seabrook,” she says. Once the pandemic has died down, she’s planning to finally begin a program of author readings, writing workshops and book clubs at Joie Des Livres — the kind of communal cultural events that are necessary to transform a pristine new town like Seabrook into a real community.
What are Joie Des Livres customers reading?
Ardourel says shoppers are eager to more fully explore worlds they get a glimpse of in other media. “Our customers love to read about what’s popular on Netflix, and also what movies are about to come out,” she says. “So at the moment we cannot keep ‘Shadow and Bone,’ or any of the Grishaverse series from Leigh Bardugo, in stock. I’m ordering like five of each of those a week in order to just try and have enough on the shelves.”
Northwest author Frank Herbert’s “Dune” is “another huge seller right now because everybody wants to read the book before they see the new movie version that’s coming out,” Ardourel says. “And ‘Bridgerton’ author Julia Quinn is actually a local. She came in maybe a month or two before the ‘Bridgerton’ show came out on Netflix and signed the copies we had in stock.”
You can’t run a beach bookstore without a strong mystery section. Ardourel says Nora Roberts’ “In Death” series, which is published under the pen name J.D. Robb, is “just so much fun. It’s a futuristic mystery series set in 2060, and the main character is a homicide detective.”
Genre fiction and children’s fiction sales are strong at Joie Des Livres, and one bestseller that successfully blends the two is the dragon-packed “Wings of Fire” series by Tui T. Sutherland, which has consistently topped the bestseller list in the shop’s kids’ section. “Young kids get so excited when they find the series on the shelf,” Ardourel says. “They grab all of the books that they haven’t yet read and bring them up to their mom. It’s always heartwarming to see kids get into reading.”