A week before Horizon Books was slated to vacate its old location on 15th Ave E, when things were looking most grim for the continued survival of this longstanding neighborhood institution, Brandon Letsinger jumped onboard to usher the shop into its new era.
Letsinger has deep roots in local bookselling — his first job out of high school was working at Horizon and his father, Dave Brown, is the proprietor of Recollection Books, which has shared space with Horizon for decades. Letsinger swiftly moved to cut a deal for a new location and began loading boxes into the underground “book bunker” at 1423 10th Ave, down the block from Neumo’s and beneath Super Genius Tattoo. He now runs the day-to-day operations, although owner Don Glover still drops in regularly bearing bags of more books.
“His one rule is he gets to keep bringing in books,” Letsinger says, “He’s probably one of the most prolific book scouts — with one of the best collections — in the western United States.”
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Now ensconced in their unique new location, Letsinger has set about finding innovative ways to pay the rent in a local retail landscape that’s proven merciless for the used book biz — he can count on one hand the number of fellow indie bookstores that remain from the pre-Amazon heydays.
Letsinger, with a small staff of employees, aims to position the shop as a community space, hosting events such as poetry readings, book clubs, art shows, and Dungeons & Dragons meetups. They’ve set up tables and afghan-swaddled chairs to encourage guests to linger in the cozy subterranean grotto.
The store now sticks to regular business hours: noon to 9 PM every day. “The other new revolutionary used book technology was we started putting out a sign,” Letsinger deadpans, “We get great walk-in traffic. We’re reconnecting with all the people who grew up with Horizon Books, [as well as] new people moving here looking for something authentic.”
Additionally, Letsinger is converting a section of the shop into an independent media space that will serve as a studio for podcast tapings, video interviews and programs like the Sanctuary City Music Project. It will also be the central hub for media collective Cascadia Underground, a bioregionalist anti-oppression network that Letsinger helped found.
As he develops the shop into this forward-looking model for brick-and-mortar survival, Letsinger continues the Sisyphean task of sorting through the tens of thousands of books Glover has acquired — and continues to acquire — over 47 years in the business. They’re in the process of rebuilding the website with a searchable online database of their massive collection and setting up a section of the shop for the rarest and most collectible of Glover’s holdings. This generation-spanning work continues daily.
“We figured that if we went through and processed a box of books per day, we’ve got more than a decade’s worth of stuff,” he says.
Horizon Books is located at 1423 10th Ave. You can learn more at facebook.com/seattlehorizonbooks.