What kind of books do they sell in your neighborhood?

When Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co. changed neighborhoods, it also tweaked its stock.

Mary Knox Merrill/CSM staff/file
Seattle’s showcase bookstore, The Elliott Bay Book Co., moved last year from its longtime home in Pioneer Square – and discerned a shift in its customer base.

Here’s an interesting algorithm for the e-book programmers: How do you translate surroundings into sales? Can an online “neighborhood” affect the books readers buy?

I’m wondering that after writing about the success of Seattle’s showcase bookstore, The Elliott Bay Book Co., which moved last year from its longtime home in Pioneer Square to a newly renovated building in the hip Capitol Hill neighborhood. Plenty of fans thought there was no way bookstore owner Peter Aaron could transplant the soul of the bookstore into a new location. (I admit I was among the doubters, having seen the failure of my beloved Cody’s Books after it moved its flagship store in Berkeley. But instead, Aaron told me, the bookstore thrived in its new home. Sales shot up. Interestingly, though, they weren’t always the same sales. For the first time in ages, he started stocking Agatha Christie mysteries on the shelves.

Why? His new neighborhood was perceived as safer than the old one, with more convenient parking. Senior citizens (evidently prime Christie fans) had returned to shop. Capitol Hill also has a longtime status as a gay-friendly neighborhood, and the store’s section of lesbian-gay-bisexual-transsexual books thrived.

I realize that online sellers know more than brick-and-mortar ones about how to appeal to my personal taste. They know more about my browsing habits, even if they can’t always make sense of them. But would they draw in different customers with a different “home” (or, I suppose, home page)? Or, if my friends all gathered in an online spot (perhaps Goodreads?) would our presence and discussions influence our purchases the way that Elliott Bay’s book readings lead me to new discoveries?

I’m sure online stores have their own ways of creating community, and that they’ll create still more.

But for now, I'm mostly just rejoicing in this new lease on life for Elliott Bay. I love being able to write the words “independent bookstore” without ever using the word “demise,” thrilled to know that my own kids will still be able to read in the “castle” in Elliott Bay’s children’s area, that local authors will consider their careers a success when they hold an Elliott Bay reading, that my mom (recently deprived of the only bookstore in her Delaware neighborhood, a Borders), will still happily browse their shelves on her visits to Seattle, telling me ‘You don’t know how lucky you are that this is here.’ "

Seattle writer Rebekah Denn blogs at

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