Well, that was quick. Walking through Bailey/Coy Books today, about ten days since the bombshell news came out that the store would close at the end of November, was much sadder than expected. While braced for something far removed from a usual bookstore visit I was surprised at the knot in my stomach at the sight of the store standing on its very last legs.
Roughly half the floor space has been cordoned off by bookshelves, leaving visible empty floor space behind. Shelves are stocked with a far smaller number of titles than you might presume and a fractional amount compared to what constituted business as usual. There’s been a mad rush to take advantage of bargains before the store closes for good. Another telling sign: The shelves themselves are for sale.
No surprise that there’s pretty much universal agreement that Bailey/Coy’s closure is a terrible thing. On Broadway for 26 years, the store has been (and still is, for the next three weeks at least) one of Capitol Hill’s signature businesses.
But sadly, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s hardly the first time a well-established independent bookstore on the Hill has closed its doors. For one example, in March of this year Horizon Books shut down on 15th Avenue East, not long after closing its University District location. In so doing, a used bookstore that had been around for more than 30 years ceased to be.
Remember also Beyond the Closet at 518 E. Pike Street. The LGBT bookstore closed in 2005; I believe it opened in the late ‘80s. Capitol Hill was obviously a natural fit for the store before vast changes to the bookselling industry led to its financial downturn. Another factor in this case was greater acceptance of LGBT titles in mass-market bookstores like Barnes and Noble. By the middle of this decade selling gay and lesbian titles was not the mark of distinction it once had been.
Going back a little further, Pistil Books held court on East Pike Street where Bimbo’s Bitchin’ Burritos now draws crowds. But in the Spring of 2001, owners Amy Candiotti and Sean Carlson closed the physical store and became an Internet-only operation. During a gathering at the store to discuss changes in the book industry, the owners bemoaned closing the shop but had to face economic realities. Carlson said he’d been making $5 per hour for years, an amount that simply wasn’t sustainable. The bright side in this case is that the online business remains; check them out at www.pistilbooks.net.
Those who’ve logged more than a decade of residence on the Hill may remember Red and Black Books on 15th Avenue East, where Shoprite currently plies its trade. The store featured a huge variety of publications simply not found in other stores. Leftist political treatises, obscure poetry, multicultural children’s books – the store’s mission was to sell non-mainstream titles. Logically located on the Hill and run as a collective of devoted members, its model worked for years. And then did not: the store closed in early 1999. Another bookstore, Pages, opened in the space briefly, focusing more on being an Internet café when such things were somewhat novel and closing shortly thereafter.
Just about everyone knows that what’s lost when independent bookstores close is more than places where one can buy books. Bailey/Coy Books helps define Broadway and Capitol Hill. No doubt the Elliot Bay Book Company, should it move to the Hill, could fill a void Bailey/Coy will leave behind. But this would come at the expense of the void its departure would create in Pioneer Square. While such a relocation would be good for the Hill, it’s probably not a great move for the city as a whole. Call it NIMBYism in reverse.
If Bailey/Coy couldn’t make it, nor the others that have gone under before it, who can? Because it’s hard to imagine a neighborhood where a niche bookstore like Red and Black or Beyond the Closet, or a well-titled independent like Bailey/Coy would fare better. And that is truly a scary thought.