It has been reported again and again that business at Elliott Bay Book Co. has been up since moving to Capitol Hill from Pioneer Square more than a year ago. How has the bookstore succeeded as other retailers have struggled and the book industry flails?
“I can answer that in one word: People. Lots and lots of people,” owner Peter Aaron tells CHS. Aaron said monthly sales volume figures have consistently been up 15-20% compared to the store’s final year in Pioneer Square.
“It has turned out to be everything I could have hoped for,” Aaron said. When making the move to the Hill, Aaron had estimated the store would need to do at least 10 percent more in sales to make the move worthwhile. “Anything on top of that would have been beyond the bare necessity,” he said.
Early in his decision process to move the store to Capitol Hill, it looked like Elliott Bay might need more than an increase in volume. The store looked at taking out a loan through a City of Seattle Office of Economic Development program but was able to cut an affordable deal to come 10th Ave, City officials said. OED’s Karin Zaugg:
OED staff did have initial conversations with Elliott Bay Book Company, where we explained the details of our loan program to them. The company decided not to submit a loan application. To clarify, our potential assistance for their move to the Capitol Hill location was related to the possible loan which did not happen. OED let Elliott Bay know about the Grow Seattle Fund loan program, as well as offer OED assistance if they should need any help navigating city permitting or other technical assistance. They ended up not needing any help from OED while they did their move.
Developer Michael Malone’s move to help bring Elliott Bay to his space on 10th Ave hasn’t necessarily brought about a blossoming of independent retail in the neighborhood, however. Almost all of the new businesses brought into the Broadway Building in the months following Elliott Bay’s arrival have been national chains or franchises — including the latest, and last to fill the building coming soon.
Meanwhile, the book selling industry is the pits. Borders is closing hundreds of their massive retail stores across the country after declaring bankruptcy in February, Aaron said Elliott Bay is not impacted by many of the problems Borders faces (see this AnnArbor.com interview with Borders’ CEO for an idea of what they are facing).
“Borders made a lot of bad decisions about growth,” he said. “There’s just not room in the market for two gigantic chains of brick and mortar stores.” While Borders tries to make it through bankruptcy, Barnes & Noble has been making drastic changes, too.
“The most productive footage in the store is dedicated to selling electronic devices,” he said of B&N. “These are gigantic corporations, and their business is in enriching their shareholders.” So when the stock goes down, they respond with kneejerk reactions.
“For us, like is a lot more simple. All we have to do is pay attention to our customers,” he said. “That’s a demanding job in itself.”