Ten years ago, when we gathered at Elliott Bay Book Company in Pioneer Square in Seattle to toast the store’s 30th anniversary, owner Peter Aaron said he would see us all at the 40th anniversary party. This weekend, at Elliott Bay’s new home on Capitol Hill, hundreds of booksellers, authors, and community supporters gathered for that very occasion.
While speaking to the crowd on June 30th, Aaron confessed that he had not known what immense challenges were in store for the store when he made his cavalier invitation a decade ago. The iconic Seattle bookstore not only stood the test of time, a recession, and a great big move from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, but emerged more vibrant than ever. This success is testament to the community of readers, authors and booksellers, many of whom were present (or sorely missed) at the celebration.
Anniversaries are ripe for expressions of appreciation for the people that have shown support over the years and ripe also for reflections on time. Past, present, and future were addressed by Elliott Bay founder, Walter Carr, and by longest-standing bookseller and pioneer of the famous reading series, Rick Simonson, along with generous praise from American Bookseller’s Association CEO, Oren Teicher, and a reading of Mayor Mike McGinn’s official proclamation of the newly instituted, “Elliott Bay Book Day.”
This meditation on past, present, and future was also observed on the June 29 “Elliott Bay at Forty” reading with Jim Lynch (Truth Like the Sun), Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette) and Ryan Boudinot (Blueprints of the Afterlife). Boudinot framed the time trilogy by saying, “The past gives us our memories, the present demands that we accept the status quo or make a change, and the future asks for our imaginations. I can think of no better monument to the power of imagination than this bookstore.” He proceeded to pose several challenges to authors and readers who shared the intention of fostering a bright future for Elliott Bay Book Company and other independent bookstores. He charged authors to actively support Indies with exclusive content and/or access to drafts, special editions of works and other incentives for the dedicated loyalty of these stores, booksellers and readers. His challenge to readers and writers alike was to join a community effort to petition for Seattle’s recognition as a UNESCO City of Literature, citing Elliott Bay’s 40-year commitment to Seattle as key evidence of candidacy.
In the 30th Anniversary supplement of the Elliott Bay Booknotes, Peter Aaron wrote that he was hopeful about the future because he had committed himself and Elliott Bay Book Company to maintain the fundamentals of Walter Carr’s vision: maintain a broad and comprehensive book selection, a unique ambience, an unmatched reading series and a devoted and passionate staff of booksellers. He believed these principles earned respect and patronage from readers who equally valued them and that with the dedication of those readers there would be a 40th anniversary and more for Elliott Bay Book Co.
Kristianne Huntsberger is a writer, performer and educator who, when not roaming the world, makes her home in Seattle. She has worked with the Elliott Bay Book Company in various capacities over the past ten years.
(The title is a nod to T.S. Eliot and his “Four Quartets.”)