For nearly four decades, Pegasus Book Exchange has been an anchor destination for the West Seattle Junction, and the most consistent bookselling presence in West Seattle. Margarita Clement founded Pegasus as a used bookstore 39 years ago, and she soon hired a frequent customer named Fred Epps to work as a bookseller. With his wife Lanthe, whom he met at the shop, Epps eventually purchased Pegasus from Clement, becoming one of the Junction’s signature personalities in the process.
Eric Ogriseck, Pegasus’s floor manager, says he learned a lot about bookselling from Fred. “Growing up, one of his goals was to read all the books in his school library,” Ogriseck explains, “so he went straight through the Dewey Decimal System.”
With his broad literary tastes and excellent memory for facts, Fred became known in the Junction as the man who knows everything — a kind of human Google. But the regular commute from Mount Vernon began to be too much, and five years ago Fred handed the shop’s day-to-day back end and digital operations over to his daughter, Emma Epps, and Ogriseck took over as full-time floor manager.
Like Fred, Pegasus has always had a lot of personality. It’s a long, narrow shop made up of tall shelves packed with used books. The collection is eclectic, wide-ranging and packed full of surprises — the kind of shop where you stumble across that one nagging title on your to-be-read list that has always evaded you.
“Customers come in all the time from bigger cities like San Francisco or New York,” Ogriseck says, “and they’ll say ‘My God, I can’t believe you had this book. I’ve been looking for it everywhere!’”
What’s the secret behind Pegasus’ immersive collection? “West Seattle, out of all the places I’ve lived, has such a diverse reading life,” Ogriseck explains. He’s consistently blown away by the range and the quality of books that regular customers bring in to trade.
But a bookstore can’t just succeed on charm and history alone. Pegasus Book Exchange has thrived because it’s changed with the times. Back in the mid-2000s when “Twilight” frenzy was at its peak and everyone was buying the vampire-romance series, Pegasus began to carry new books for the first time. Now a display at the front of the store shows off a smartly curated collection of the latest new releases, New York Times bestsellers, word-of-mouth breakouts and viral social media sensations. Customers who bring in used books to trade can apply their store credit to 50% of a used book’s price or 20% off new books.
Pegasus’ stock has evolved over time, thanks to changing customer tastes and the interests of the shop’s seven-person staff. “Boy, we sell more poetry than I ever could have imagined,” Ogriseck says, and “our LGBTQIA section just keeps growing.”
Ogriseck says he’s learned to be more open-minded about his reading tastes. For most of his two decades as a bookseller, “I used to say, ‘I’m never going to read a romance,’ and that was just stupid and stubborn.” Several of his co-workers — including Fred and Lanthe’s daughter Emma Epps, a Pegasus bookseller and romance and fantasy author herself — finally wore Ogriseck down.
“I’m actually almost done reading my first-ever romance — this book named ‘Shanna,’ which one of my co-workers was actually named after. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s seriously beautiful,” Ogriseck gushes.
What’s unique about Pegasus is the way the shop deftly balances the old and new. You can find a century-old rare signed edition or a rare pamphlet from Washington state history just a few feet away from a brand-new YA romance that’s blowing up on TikTok. In fact, Pegasus has become a favorite destination and filming location for local TikTok stars like @hellomandyo, who routinely plugs Pegasus in the book haul videos she posts for her 27,000 followers.
“Mandy’s a great customer, and she’s a reading machine,” Ogriseck says, before shyly admitting that “I haven’t been on TikTok but once in my life.” Younger members of Pegasus staff keep an eye on the social network’s BookTok community for trending titles.
But social media comes and goes. In the end a bookstore is only as strong as its community, and Pegasus is a West Seattle shop through and through. The store is flooded with customers every Sunday when the West Seattle Farmers Market unfolds just outside their doors. “It’s like Christmas every week,” Ogriseck says.
In 2020, Pegasus confronted two major crises simultaneously when the West Seattle Bridge closed for repairs in the middle of COVID-19 lockdowns. “Honestly, the pandemic was very tough for our business,” Ogriseck admits, “but the bridge closure, I would argue, was almost harder.” He estimates that almost half the shop’s customer base is from outside West Seattle, and with the bridge out, their visits slowed to a trickle.
Pegasus found ways to survive. The shop temporarily placed a locker out front for people to pick up preordered books through no-contact delivery, and it launched the Picked By Pegasus subscription program that mails bookseller-approved fiction, nonfiction, romance or suspense titles to subscribers anywhere in the country.
And now that the bridge has reopened, those non-West Seattle customers are flocking back to Pegasus. “The first weekend that the Bridge opened, so many people were so excited to come back again,” Ogriseck says. “Every day since then a dozen people come in and say ‘we missed you, and we’re so glad to be back.’ It’s just really nice.”
What are Pegasus Book Exchange customers reading?
“I’m Glad My Mom Died,” former child actor Jennette McCurdy’s memoir about her tumultuous relationship with her mother, “came out of nowhere,” says Ogriseck. The title immediately sold out and demand has stayed high ever since. “It’s written in a very raw style but she’s not asking for pity or sympathy — you can tell it’s very cathartic, raw and potent,” he says.
Swedish novelist Fredrik Backman’s latest novel “The Winners” is about a longstanding rivalry between two hockey teams. “Like in many rural areas, sometimes neighbors don’t like each other but they’re also dependent on each other,” Ogriseck says. “What Backman does better than anyone is writing small-town life. It doesn’t need to be set in Sweden, it could take place anywhere.”
“Carrie Soto Is Back,” the latest novel from TikTok favorite author Taylor Jenkins Reid, is about an older tennis player who is challenged by a young upstart. “Reid’s pacing is so interesting,” Ogriseck says, adding that he tore through the book at record speed.
“Bluets” tells the story of author Maggie Nelson’s relationship with the color blue. It’s a love story that turns into an obsession. “I always encourage people to not read the whole thing like a novel,” Ogriseck says. “Just read four or five of these little pieces and then just sit with it.”
Ogriseck is a devoted mushroom hunter who sells products like homemade smoked porcini powder through Pegasus, and he says “All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms” by David Arora “is my favorite book of all time,” as well as the bestselling title in Pegasus history. The field guide helps burgeoning amateur mycologists identify mushrooms native to the Pacific Northwest. “I have six copies of it — two in my car, one in the bathroom, the rest in various places in the house. I love the quirky stories and beautiful photos,” he says, adding that the book “really ups the confidence” of anyone interested in identifying local mushrooms.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Fred Epps founded Pegasus Book Exchange.