The worst thing about ceremonies is always the ceremony part. Last Thursday's grand opening of Elliott Bay Book Company's new Capitol Hill home was a laid-back, neighborhood get-together whose only flagging moments came when developers stood up to give obligatory speeches packed with shameless self-congratulation and buzzwords like "urban villages," and the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was awkward in the way that ribbon-cutting ceremonies always are. The only respite came from Elliott Bay owner Peter Aaron, who read a lesser-known Emily Dickinson poem with a hopeful line that promises "typic 'Heres'—Foretold Locations."
"I've never had to wait in line before to get into a bookstore," someone said as hundreds of people poured through the doors to see what the wealthy people had been droning on about. They weren't disappointed. The new Elliott Bay is gorgeous: bright sun pouring in from skylights and old cedar bookshelves from the Pioneer Square store looking as though they'd always been in that 92-year-old former Ford truck service center. It's an airy, organic space that smells of old wood and books; you'd have to live in a fugue state of denial to claim that the old space was more beautiful than the new.
Kids left the enormous new children's section hugging armloads of books. People who hadn't seen each other in years hugged in the fiction stacks. Hugging abounded. The celebrants wandered around, buying stacks of books, and heading outside, where neighboring restaurants had set up booths. People greeted each other while eating burritos and whole pizzas folded in half like tacos. The whole thing felt like hanging out on the stoop with friends.
Elliott Bay readings coordinator Rick Simonson said there were already talks of starting a late-night reading series on weekends with younger authors (and, presumably, younger audiences) to better serve the bookstore's new home. Everything felt possible. The few grumblings were about Aaron's frustrating decision to not carry used books in the new location, cheating customers out of a unique aspect of the browsing experience in a new store that was designed for joyful browsing. Elliott Bay manager Tracy Taylor has said the bookstore's inventory system could easily be modified to resume used-book sales—it's only a matter of time before that happens.
All the optimism and unabashed joy was infectious. Some strolled across the park for a poetry reading at Hugo House, and others carried their books home in the dusk. It became apparent that this was more than just the opening celebration for the most beautiful bookstore in Seattle: If we accept the challenge, we could build one of the world's most vibrant literary neighborhoods right here and right now.