The historic Elliott Bay book company on Capitol Hill, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, has been sold to a longtime bookstore manager and two married bar and business owners on Capitol Hill.
Tracy Taylor, the general manager of the company for the past 32 years, is buying the famous bookstore in Seattle along with a duo of husband and husband Murph Hall and Joey Burgess, who own several LGBTQ bars and other businesses in the area, including Queer / Bar, Cuff and forest. The sale was completed on June 1.
The new owners will host Seattle’s favorite establishment, hosted by Raymond Carver, Hillary Clinton, Carl Uwe Knausgard, Anne Lamot, Amy Tan and last month’s Neil Gaiman. David Sedaris comes every year.
“If you can name them, they were here,” Taylor said, sitting in a room where several of these authors were holding events.
How much was paid for the bookstore, the troika does not disclose. The company survived the pandemic well, and its budget was in the red, Hall said, and “healthy” sales figures returned to what it was before the pandemic.
Also last year, they signed a collective agreement with the newly formed union of their employees. A spokesman for the Book Workers’ Union declined to comment on the sale.
Former owner Peter Aaron did not respond to a request for comment as to why he was selling, but said in a press release that the transfer of the bookstore to these new owners feels like a successful exit.
“It has been our honor and privilege to serve as the custodian of this unique and magnificent haven of literature and civilization for the past 23 years,” Aaron said in a statement, adding that the new owners’ experience, energy and talents contribute to making them ideal for that the bookstore continues to flourish and uphold the standards and traditions that have been the hallmarks of the business for many years. ”
No immediate changes are planned, although the three new owners discussed the joint inclusion of a business they started in 2021, the Big Little News kiosk and a subordinate subscription service in the block down the street.
“We could also just keep it the way it is, right now, forever,” Hall said.
Buyers have an intimate relationship with the bookstore. Taylor, who came from a job at the famous Denver Tattered Bookstore in 1990, worked at the store longer than Aaron, who became the sole owner in 2001. She knew and worked with the bookstore’s original founders Walter and Maggie Carr.
It was Carrs who chose the company’s distinctive logo in the form of a three-masted ship with a coastal sawmill and Alki Point in the background.
“It’s exciting and a little scary” to be at the helm of this ship now, Taylor said. “It’s a big heavy ship.”
Burgess has been visiting the Elliott Bay Book Company since 2006, when he first moved to Seattle; he met Taylor at a bookstore many years ago, and he and her husband met her through business connections next door, such as 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 could not imagine how it would go, and the opportunity to study at Tracy, who has run the store for 30 years, is very great.
Taylor agrees about magic.
“You can be alone, come here and not feel lonely,” Taylor said.
When Burgess and Hall had a daughter in 2019, Hall came and bought more than 30 books to read to her, including “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “The Tree That Gives”.
The group will become the fourth owner of the Elliott Bay Book Company has been operating since its opening in 1973. Aaron was the CEO of Third Place Books when it was founded, and came to the Elliott Bay Book Company as a partial owner when Third Place bought it from its founders Walter and Maggie Carr in 1999. Aaron then bought a store at Third Place the following year and kept track of his own a bold transition to Capitol Hill from the original location of the Elliott Bay Book Company in Pioneer Square.
The Ford building where the bookstore is now located was sold in 2017 to a subsidiary of Keeler Investments Group, based in Mercer Island. The lease is valid until 2029, and the new owners have been talking to the Killer family – who own the building – about staying longer.
The book company and its senior employee, lead buyer Rick Simonson (who worked there 13 years longer than Taylor), were a key part of Seattle becoming a place to visit for the authors. This was not always the case: in the 1970s, most publishers considered the Northwest Pacific to be “inland areas” and rarely sent authors here, Taylor said.
Now Seattle is well known as a well-read city, and many would call the Elliott Bay Book Company its direct hub.
“Like Dublin’s Abbey Theater for Drama in Ireland, as Fenway Park is for baseball in Boston, Elliott Bay is for fans of the written word in Seattle,” Seattle author Timothy Egan wrote for Photograph of the Seattle Times to the 40th anniversary of the bookstore in 2013. “That’s why on a gloomy dark night on Tuesday in January, a hundred or more people crowded Elliott Bay to hear the author, who may have thought he or she never had fans.”