More than three years ago, Mayor Greg Nickels officially announced a city-funded effort to enhance the business environment on Capitol Hill, recognizing a Capitol Hill action plan developed over many months by community business leaders and city staff. A crowd of community members, city people and even journalists gathered for the presentation at a well-known Broadway business: Bailey Coy Books. As pretty much everyone knows by now, Bailey/Coy closed for good last Friday after 26 years on Broadway.
That Bailey Coy was the backdrop for the mayor’s announcement about Capitol Hill was appropriate because Michael Wells, Bailey Coy’s owner since 2003, was instrumental in bringing what was called the Broadway Economic Vitality Action Agenda to fruition. Wells, among others, had been deeply involved in any number of activities related to improving the business climate on Broadway and Capitol Hill.
This effort included being among the core group of people who resurrected the dormant Broadway Business Improvement Association after that group had fallen off the map. Wells also served as president of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce when it reformed as a result of the city signing off on the Broadway plan.
Which is all to say that when a store like Bailey Coy Books closes more may be lost than a desirable place to buy books. A great deal of institutional memory acquired during years of being a neighborhood business owner, not to mention countless hours of volunteer effort, can slowly evaporate as well.
For Michael Wells, by virtue of no longer being a Broadway business owner, he is by definition no longer a member of the Broadway BIA. Wells’ remains on the chamber board though he will step down in December, a decision that predates having to close the bookstore.
Not that Wells intends to remove himself completely from community involvement. Capitol Hill still runs deep in his veins. And despite having to close Bailey Coy he remains optimistic about Broadway’s long-term prospects, pointing to the large residential developments on Broadway’s north end as well as the eventual completion Broadway’s light rail station in 2016 as signs that Broadway will weather the current economic downturn.
“I think in a number of years the district will really thrive,” he said. “I was hoping to keep Bailey Coy hanging on long enough to be part of it. But I’m sure I’ll stay involved in some capacity.”
Given how much Capitol Hill has changed over the years, Wells thinks its probably time for a new crowd of community leaders to take their turn. He acknowledges that when people step aside after years of involvement there can be a loss of continuity as well as a loss of knowledge regarding the issues, the process of working with the city, etc. Then again, many people are involved, not everyone moves on at the same time and community involvement always has its own ebb and flow. Broadway evolves over time, and so, logically, should the people who choose to become community activists.
While well-documented changes in the book-selling universe led to the store’s closure, in stark and simple terms it boiled down to this: Bailey Coy experienced a 50 percent drop in sales over its last year. Making payroll was becoming a serious problem. In the end, Wells said, there really wasn’t any realistic alternative.
“We might have been able to keep going if we completely changed the kind of store we were. It would have been a change for the worse and I didn’t want to try to stay alive running a really bad bookstore,” he said.
The next two weeks will be a mad dash getting ready for Bailey Coy’s Dec. 3 wake and auction. Once that event is over, Wells plans on going to bed for the rest of December. It will be the first time since he moved to Seattle in 1989 that he won’t be spending the holiday season behind a cash register.
Come January 1, he’ll start the daunting process of figuring out what comes next. The task will involve a considerable amount of soul searching. Having been a book seller for his professional life, Wells recognizes that the job hunt will likely involve an act of reinvention.
While his future is unknown, Wells can say this much with certainty: he has no plans on leaving Capitol Hill. After 20 years living a stone’s throw from Broadway Wells isn’t going anywhere. He even allows for a short laugh at the mere suggestion.
“No, I’m definitely not leaving the Hill,” he said. “I really wouldn’t know how to live anywhere else.”
When: Thursday, December 3, 2009 06:00 PM – 09:00 PM
Where: Bailey/Coy 414 Broadway Ave E
What: Please join us for our party/wake/auction/fundraising event that promises to be a blast!!!
For 26 years, Bailey/Coy Books served as Capitol Hill’s literary hub, providing the community with a place to be amongst books, talk about literature and meet their favorite authors.
On Thursday, December 3, we’re holding a wake for the store, in memory of all those years, and celebrating the customers who’ve walked through the doors, the authors we’ve hosted, the generations of books we’ve sold and the staff who have served us so well.
We’ll also hold an auction of the memorabilia we’ve collected over the years. We want to say good-bye in style – and raise some cash to help the store.
Auctioneer Laura Michalek will oversee bidding on a pair of white boxer shorts signed by David Sedaris, original cartoons out of our guestbook by Matt Groening and Lynda Barry, a poster signed by Annie Leibovitz, an original painting from the Big Fucking Hands series by Ellen Forney, signed first editions and other very special and very odd items. We’ll also auction off dates with two of Capitol Hill’s celebrity politicians, State Senator Ed Murray and City Councilmember Sally Clark.
Entertainment will be provided by Fuschia Foxxx and the magnificent Dina Martina. Food and champagne will be served, all provided by local Capitol Hill eateries such as Poppy, Table 219, Charlie’s and High Five Pies. Tickets are $40. We will pop the champagne open at 6 PM–the entertainment, and the auction, will begin promptly at 7.
Tickets will be available at BrownPaperTickets.com or at the door. Space is limited – so buy early and buy often.