UPDATE 12:10 PM:
I spoke with Bailey Coy owner Michael Wells this morning shortly after the shop opened for the first day of business since his big (and sad) announcement.
Wells said his decision to close for good after years of financial struggle came down to the fundamental question: What does an independent bookstore need to be in this era to survive?
Wells said he’s been thinking of how to change for a long time. “I’ve considered so many permutations. Downsizing. Changing my stock. Events. The realities of book selling at this moment are such that I’m not even sure a change of retail model would even work,” Wells said.
“I think a new bookstore has to look differently than in the past. I don’t know that I can do that. I don’t really understand what is needed. I don’t know what e-books will do, how discounts will work, what it will take to do better.”
So Wells said he has decided to do the prudent thing. Quit.
“Even if there was a huge groundswell of support from the community, the business model itself is so precarious,” Wells said. “I wanted to end this with grace.”
Not that the community hasn’t tried to keep the story going. Wells confirmed that a prominent Capitol Hill business owner who is a longtime customer had been working with him to find a solution to keep Bailey Coy in business.
“A loan doesn’t really help any more. The credit debt is too scary. We’ve gone through a couple of attempts to find financing and we end up in the same place. No,” Wells said. “One of the pieces of this story is how hard it is for small businesses to get credit. At some point I stopped and said, ‘I wouldn’t even give us credit!'”
Wells said the financial condition of his shop wasn’t dire — in fact, he said he has never taken out a bank loan to keep the store afloat — but that it had become clear that the struggle to survive was no longer worth the effort.
“This isn’t the bookstore I want to be running. I only want to run a good bookstore. I cannot finance — and the Cap Hill community — cannot finance this store,” Wells said.
Now, Wells said the best way for you to help him close Bailey Coy with ‘grace’ is to support the store as it sells off its remaining stock over the next four weeks. The prices will keep dropping, of course, but buying a book today will help Wells pay off remaining bills. He also said there will be a new ‘Bailey Coy rummage’ section of the store to sell off some of the memorabilia and etc. that has collected in the store over the years including a framed package wrapper from Feminist Press addressed to founder Barbara Bailey and some of the shop’s classic window displays.
The best memorabilia will be part of an auction at a party Wells is planning to celebrate the store’s history. Wells calls the party Bailey Coy’s wake. “Barbara will be there,” Wells said. “We’ll auction off great memorabilia like a pair of underwear signed by David Sedaris.”
The happy part of the whole thing, Wells said, is hearing from people about their love for the store. “I’m hearing so many stories. Stories about people coming here as a kid. We’re connected to a variety of communities. A lot of people have different experiences. That’s been great.”
As for what comes next for Wells, he says he hasn’t had time to think about it despite friends telling him for years that he should think about life after Bailey Coy.
“It’s been a great 30 years,” Wells said. “For 25 of those years, it was a profitable business. And then I bought it,” he deadpans. Now that the struggle has ended, Wells can laugh.
UPDATE 9:25 AM:
Owner Michael Wells says thanks (and more!) in the comments below:
Thank YouThanks to all of you for your kind words. We will remain open the rest of this month and book cards and gift certificates are still redeemable.We’re obviously very sad about this. We’ve been proud to be a part of your lives.I came to Bailey/Coy in 1989, so, while it’s possible that I may be stuck in the 80’s, it’s far more likely that I’m stuck in the 90’s. The 1890’s, perhaps…
Michael Wells, owner of indie Capitol Hill bookstore Bailey Coy Books and a prominent member of the Hill business community, tonight announced that he is closing doors on the shop at the end of November. Publicola was the first to report on the closure in a report written by a Bailey Coy employee. The reporter included this press release from Wells about his decision:
Bailey/Coy Books, after serving the Capitol Hill community, the greater Seattle area and generations of book lovers everywhere for 26 years, will be closing its doors at the end of November.
This has not been an easy decision for us. We have struggled, along with independent bookstores across the country, for the last decade to keep our bookstore profitable and healthy. The economic downturn of the past year, combined with the rapidly changing world of bookselling, has led us to believe that this is the most responsible decision.
Starting this week, we will begin a closing sale with everything in the store marked down 20 percent. Gift certificates and redeemable book cards will be accepted until the final closing date, at the end of November.
The recent news that Elliott Bay Book Company is considering moving to Capitol Hill has no bearing on this decision. We wish Elliot Bay Book Company and all Seattle independent bookstores the best of luck in this challenging time.
Bailey/Coy Books began as B. Bailey Books, founded by Barbara Bailey, in the Rainier Square building in 1977. In 1982 she opened a second store on Broadway and in 1983 that store became Bailey/Coy Books. That year she sold the downtown store and Broadway became the store’s home. In 2003 Barbara retired from the bookselling business and sold the store to Michael Wells, the manager of the store since 1989.
Barbara created a bookstore that was not only a model of the best in bookstores but was also specifically designed to welcome a lesbian and gay clientele. The American bookselling landscape at that time included general independents and lesbian and gay stores but rarely did those two models mix. Barbara wanted to create a store where the best in general literature existed side by side with the best in lesbian and gay books. Today that seems like a fairly pedestrian idea, but in 1982 it was nothing short of revolutionary. We remain proud of our long history with the Seattle lesbian and gay community and the rich and varied culture that that community has supported over the years.
We have been active participants in the Broadway Business Improvement Area, the Mayor’s Task Force on Broadway and the newly formed Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. We have been deeply involved in the Capitol Hill community for over 20 years. It is our belief that this bookstore could not have flourished the way it once did in any other Seattle neighborhood. Capitol Hill’s history of diversity, eccentricity and a commitment to the arts are a part of our history that we cherish. Capitol Hill rules.
We would like to thank the customers and friends who have come through our doors in the last two decades. Our bookstore is a community that includes all of you. We urge you to continue to support independent business and especially independent bookstores. It makes a world of difference.
Again, thank you to all of our customers, to the hundreds of authors who have read in our store, to all of the Pacific Northwest bookselling community and book lovers everywhere. We are honored to have been part of your lives.
And a special thank you to the marvelous people who have staffed Bailey/Coy Books over the years. We have been lucky enough to work with the best and brightest in the Seattle community. We cannot begin to tell you how those people have enriched our lives and the life of this store.
Bailey Coy’s recent struggles were not a secret. As the rumors of Elliott Bay Book Co. eyeing a new home on Capitol Hill churned, there was talk of a group of local business owners gathering together to help support Wells through the holiday season as the small retailer faced financial challenges that would prevent it from ordering the stock it needed for November and December.
Wells was recently named a ‘Spirit of the Hill’ award winner by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce for his work to keep a progressive small business alive on Capitol Hill. He had previously served as the Chamber’s board president and was part of the discussions with Sound Transit about the agency’s plans to provide mitigation for the Hill’s businesses during the eight-year light rail station construction. Sound Transit recently announced a new marketing initiative and Web site yourcapitolhill.com (not yet live) as part of that initiative. Wells was also involved in shaping the city’s Broadway revitalization project which started in 2006 and helped drive a clean-up of the street and improvements in business conditions on the Hill including the reformation of the Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, new piroshky place Zhivago’s Cafe is scheduled to open next door to Bailey Coy this week.