For Twice Sold Tales owner Jamie Lutton, being an independent bookseller is a civic duty. Customers with specific non-fiction interests might be sent off to the public library with a lesson on how to use the periodical index, and book recommendations frequently go far beyond “a good read.”
“People come in and ask for a copy of Gone with the Wind. And I tell them what they should read is the “Wind Done Gone” – a book that was banned by the US government for giving a satirical, but very good version of “Gone with the Wind” from the slave’s perspective.” she said. “Banned by the government!”
Lutton’s passion for books is infectious. On a busy weekday morning she swoops around corners and rattles off quotes from Dickens, Shelly, and Blake.
No doubt that passion is partially responsible for the lasting success of Twice Sold Tales. Last weekend Lutton celebrated the shop’s 25th anniversary. An impressive feat for any Capitol Hill business, let alone a used bookstore.
Lutton has been able to stick it out when so many other book vendors haven’t. “Stubbornness. I refuse to die,” Lutton said.
Lutton had a humble start to bookselling, peddling her goods from cardboard boxes around Seattle college campuses in the 1980s. In 1988 a vendor from the struggling Broadway Market suggested she set up shop in one of the market’s empty vendor stalls. For $300 a month she got two carts and some floor space. Lutton showed up with 300 books and, to her surprise, made $100 the first day. “It was good money, so I came back the next day. I haven’t stopped since.”
February 17th marks Twice Sold Tales’ official anniversary. That was the day in 1988 when Lutton said she was scolded by a city official because she didn’t have a vendor’s license for her burgeoning book cart business. So she set off for city hall and became a licensed seller that day.
After outgrowing the carts, Lutton expanded to her first brick-and-mortar store in July 1990. The Broadway and East John St. location was a Capitol Hill fixture for nearly two decades and became a neighborhood-defining store.
In the “dear, dead days beyond recall” Lutton said she had 9 employees working at the store (she has 2.5 today). In those days Lutton kept the store open until 2 a.m. for her after midnight sales and occasional impromptu “mini-raves.”
“I used to hop-up onto the counter and yell ‘Alright all you cheapskates, come in here and get your 25% off!’”
In 2008, the store moved out so the building could be leveled to make way for the Broadway light rail station. After securing the Harvard Ave location and putting in 7 months of non-stop work, Lutton and her six cats settled into their new, more spacious home.
Lutton said she has no plans to expand or open new shops, despite her previous attempts. She was a minority owner in the Queen Anne and University District stores – both are now closed. The downturn in the economy, mixed with aggressive property buyers, and one too many handshake deals made the ventures no longer viable, she said. One promising new venture could include shipping to less saturated used book markets in Australia and New Zealand.
Lutton has six years on her current lease, and plans to sign another one when it’s up.
“I want to be here for a long time,” she said.
She remains optimistic about the future of independent booksellers and the demand for real paper reading in the age of Kindles and e-books.
“It will be like vinyl,” she said. “People will want to read a real book. People will want these beautiful editions that you can’t get online.” Not to mention, you miss out on the free consultation of expert booksellers. “Little generated recommendations can’t (fill that void).”
To commemorate the anniversary Lutton ran yet another one of her generous sales. If you missed it, don’t worry: Her 25% off sale after 6p is the best every-day-of-your-life book deal on the Hill.
Lutton is also in the process of writing her own book. Not surprising, it’s about books. No details she’s willing to reveal yet, other than she’s halfway done. And it’s a good thing. You can be sure, even if it’s published 25 years from now, there will be a paper version sitting on the shelf of some independent bookstore to carry on the legacy of Lutton’s work, and no doubt imploring you to read more Blake.