Third Place Books-Seward Park, which could open as soon as April, will be the third in the Third Place Books chain. It will have an espresso bar, a full restaurant, a full bar, event space and about 50,000 books.

Share story

Lit Life

For months now the Seward Park/Columbia City neighborhood has buzzed with the question — when will the new Third Place Books-Seward Park bookstore open? In search of answers, I went to the new location at 5041 Wilson Ave. S. to take a look.

Robert Sindelar, managing partner at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, met me there and gave me a quick tour. We had a hard time making ourselves heard above the buzz of saws and the pounding of hammers, but never mind — it’s looking good, and could open its doors in April.

This store, taking shape inside the shell of the former Puget Consumers Co-op building in Seward Park, will be the third in the Third Place Books chain.

Owned by business visionary Ron Sher, the existing two stores, Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Third Place Books in Ravenna, showcase Sher’s concept that the best bookstores combine good business and good community building. Not just a bookstore, but a place to get coffee, work, socialize, gather, eat and last but not least, discuss and browse books — a sort of community commons, a meeting and gathering place for multiple age levels.

This concept has ensured success for the first two stores. The Seward Park store will be all that and then some, because the store’s managers and owners are creating an all-new store inside the old PCC.

The store’s 7,000 square feet will feature an espresso bar, a full restaurant called Raconteur (breakfast, lunch and dinner), a full bar downstairs, an event/reading space capable of accommodating up to 100 people, and books. Sindelar estimates it will stock 15,000 to 20,000 titles and 50,000 units (individual books). There will be a separate children’s department.

As with the other stores, the stock will consist of both used and new books — approximately 50 percent new, 50 percent used.

The renovation budget is about $1.4 million, Sindelar said.

The store’s most distinctive architectural feature is its arched roof, uncovered when the renovators knocked down the dropped ceiling and found both the ceiling and the original wood trusses. Now the interior ceiling is clad in beautiful overlapping wood, like a warm wood floor. Skylights let the light in.

Sindelar and Sher had scouted locations in the South End and in West Seattle (disappointed groan from this West Seattleite). Then they learned that the PCC was planning to move from its Wilson Avenue location to Columbia City.

The co-op wanted a good price for the building (it was purchased from the co-op for $1.25 million, according to county property records), “but they were equally concerned with being a good neighbor,” Sindelar says, passing the property on to someone who would enhance the neighborhood.

Ka-ching. The Ravenna store is in a former PCC location, and that building was purchased from the co-op. Feelings were cordial between both parties.

From a traffic standpoint, the neighborhood already knew the location, and how to find the parking lot (yes! Parking!!!).

The restaurant will be run by Bill Coury and Brian Vescovi, owners of Flying Squirrel Pizza in Seward Park, Maple Leaf and Georgetown. In an email, Couri wrote that the restaurant will feature “upscale pub food with a global flair. … The bar downstairs will have 20 beers on tap with 6 dedicated German beers, private dining rooms, and plenty of flat screens to catch your favorite game.”

The store represents another chapter for Sindelar, who’s been involved in the Seattle book scene since he moved here from Miami in 1992.

An aspiring actor, he chose Seattle because of its theater scene, but he had worked at Books & Books, a destination Miami bookstore. “I had been working there for a couple of months when (Mexican novelist) Carlos Fuentes came to speak,” he remembers. “People were standing on the street outside to hear him, listening to his talk through speakers.”

Icing on the cake: The next morning, Sindelar got to work the store floor as Fuentes browsed the stacks.

Bit by the bookstore bug, he got a part-time job at the Elliott Bay Book Co. as he worked in theater. In 1998, he was having a late-20s existential crisis. He thought, I have to have a career.

A fellow store employee said don’t leave yet. Ron Sher, a part-owner of Elliott Bay at the time, announced plans to open a bookstore in Lake Forest Park a month later. In 1999, Sindelar moved there to manage it. He worried; could a bookstore of the kind he valued really work in a suburban mall? It could, and it did.

Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, says the new store is part of a wave of independent bookstores opening second or even third locations. “Stores have figured out that opening additional stores is one strategy that helps them succeed,” he said.

The Third Place formula has become a template for these stores: books, food, community. “They are places people want to come and hang out in … they have become community centers,” Teicher said. “Certainly Ron helped pioneer that movement. I hope he believes that this is one of those cases where imitation is the best form of flattery.”

Running any smaller business is not easy, and bookstores have been particularly vulnerable to online retail. Parkplace Books in Kirkland has closed, though its website says one partner is looking for a new location. Seattle Mystery Bookshop recently mounted a largely successful online fundraising campaign; hundreds of fans chipped in to help it pay back rent and restock the shelves.

Sindelar says Third Place’s formula relies on a key ingredient: make the store feel welcoming. All ages, all sizes. “Being multigenerational is important to our success. Everyone in the household should like to be there.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” he says. “Here’s a chance to grow a reading public.”