by Marcus Harrison Green
South Seattle bibliophiles had reason to rejoice on Saturday as Seward Park’s long-awaited Third Place Books finally opened after months of development.
An estimated 4000 people, including local luminaries such as Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large, packed the 7200 sq foot building, housing both Third Place and restaurant Raconteur, throughout the day.
Curious booklovers zigzagged down the store’s myriad aisles, scanning its vast selections of mystery, literature, drama, history, and children’s books. As they did so, they passed couples who picked the latest suspense novel off one of Third Place’s towering bookshelves to read to their partner.
Pre-teens snatched up DC Comic graphic novels; using tables filled with stacks of recent best sellers as reading posts, while college and high schools students turned the seating area near the entrance into personal study hubs, between trips for coffee from Raconteur barista’s just a few feet away. Impulsive buyers who spent “more than they should have,” rushed to the downstairs bar to crack open their new purchases over adult beverages.
All, however where there to celebrate the Grand Opening of the independent bookstore residents had greatly anticipated since its impending arrival was first announced in December of 2014.
“We actually had a little girl who stood outside every day for month while we were still working on the place. She kept asking, ‘are you guys open yet?” said Eric McDaniel, the store’s manager.
The opening was exhausting for McDaniel as he worked a full day during the store’s soft opening on Friday, only to return at 7:30am Saturday morning to not leave until well after the store closed for the night at 10:00pm.
Located on 5041 Wilson Avenue South, the Seward Park location is the third of the independently owned Third Place bookstores, joining locations in the Ravenna neighborhood, and Lake Forest Park, where McDaniel previously managed.
The Seward Park location replaced a PCC, which occupied the building for more than 30 years before moving to a bigger location in Columbia City, after Ron Sher, the owner of Third Place Books, purchased the property from PCC. Sher also purchased the building that now houses the Third Place Books in Ravenna from the food co-op, which made the purchase of the Seward Park store a fairly smooth transaction.
The grand opening of the bookstore in South Seattle on Saturday literally brought tears to one local resident who attended.
“I have lived here for 17 years. It just makes me cry to see people milling about with smiles on their face, about books. It just warms my heart,” said Seanna Jordan while searching through the store’s mystery section.
A Rainier Beach resident for more than 17 years, Jordan said she was more delighted for Third Place than for another potential store on the wish list of many residents in the area.
“People are excited about Trader Joe’s but I’m more excited about this place, because it’s about ideas. We can come together [as a community] around ideas,” she added.
More than just locals shared Jordan’s enthusiasm.
“I was sad to see the PCC go from the neighborhood but was thrilled that Third Place Books was coming in. I’m really excited though that there’s been such an overwhelming response to the opening,” said Leslie Hale.
Hale trekked from West Seattle hoping to get some of the free food offered at the event but soon discovered, like most evening visitors, it had already been gobbled up by those who arrived earlier.
While there was much to celebrate on the day, events surrounding the stores opening were not without controversy, as some writers of color in the area called out the Seward Park location on social media for its failure to accurately reflect South Seattle in its author signing events. White writers were the only participants in the signings for a store located in one of the city’s most diverse areas, leading some to threaten against patronizing the store.
McDaniel, who lives in Rainier Beach, and lobbied for a Third Place in the South End, says the author lineup can be attributed to the store’s opening date only very recently being decided upon , and ownership’s idea to bring in authors who had a longstanding relationship with Third Place as a way of “celebrating the past.”
However, he says the store opening should have definitely featured writers with long standing ties to the area, such as several local authors of color who came into the store on Saturday to speak directly with McDaniel and ownership about the lack of diversity with the authors chosen.
“I’m grateful they gave us the benefit of the doubt and talked to us about it. The idea going forward is to directly reflect the diversity down here. I just ask people to let the next 3 to 6 months speak for us, not just the past 2 days,” he says, noting that most who attended the grand opening were representative of the area’s diverse population.
Those next 3 to 6 months include local poet readings, book clubs, and children’s story times (he’s hired a former Rainier Beach librarian to organize them). They store has already scheduled their first author talk, Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vasquez, who the store will host in the fall.
For now though, some residents have already established the new book store as their second home for practical purposes.
“I’m excited there’s a space that stays open a little longer than others,” says Kelle Rose, ironically enough a graduate student in the University of Washington’s Library Science program.
Rose was on her second hour of homework, having settled into one of the side tables across from the Raconteur coffee shop near the front entry way.
For her, this day was but the first of many that will see her purchase a cup of coffee and camp out for hours working on assignments, occasionally looking up from her laptop to watch South End patrons wade in and out of the store’s sea of books.