This could very well be the new most beautiful bookstore in Seattle. Ada's Technical Books, the science-obsessed bookshop that's been thriving at the very end of Broadway for three and a half years now, is moving a few blocks up the hill to the old Horizon Books house on 15th Avenue East, with a grand opening party on Saturday, November 2. Owners David and Danielle Hulton bought the house last May and have been renovating it ever since.
That year-and-a-half investment has paid off with a jackpot; when Hulton gives me a tour of her new space—David is a full partner and active in designing and working on the space, but Danielle is the day-to-day manager—I can't help but gush. Walking down what Hulton calls the store's "spine," you're dazzled by glass and repurposed wood—about 90 percent of the wood fixtures have been repurposed from the old space, including old doors that partially separate the airy cafe on the left from the tall stacks of books on the right. To riff on a famous Hemingway invention, the new bookstore is a clean, well-lighted place for books and the people who love them.
With its comfy seating and welcoming fireplace, Ada's is the kind of space where you just want to spend time. The store's sections—technical electronic manuals, computer guides, kids' books, science fiction, biographies of scientists, a small-but-sure-to-grow set of shelves for cookbooks and guides to the sciences of coffee and tea abutting the cafe space—all feel slightly foreign when compared to the liberal-arts-friendly sections found in most general-interest bookstores. They demand inspection. There are puzzles and games and science kits available. Plenty of outlets line the walls and floors for laptops—Hulton was an electrical engineer before she opened Ada's—and the back room features a convertible screen and projector that can be used during readings. For the first time, Ada's has an official events coordinator, and they intend to ramp up their already quite full calendar of book clubs, presentations, science talks, and traditional readings in the months ahead.
Hulton had never worked as a bookseller before, and she credits Ada's success in part to her lack of experience in the field. She sounds jaw-droppingly optimistic for a bookstore owner. "Books aren't going away," she says, and, ever the jovial science nerd, she's done the research to back up that claim. She knows that to run a bookstore, you can't compete with the quantity of online booksellers, but you can know your stock, specialize, and ensure the quality of the titles you carry. (Hulton refuses to carry the "for Dummies" series of books, for instance, because there are too many intelligent, useful science guides for beginners that don't insult their readers right there in the title.)
Ada's also sells used books and e-books, the staff can order any book in print, and when I ask if there's anything Hulton couldn't incorporate into her goal to make Ada's the bookstore of the future, she laments that the technology does not quite exist yet for customers to scan a hard copy of a book and buy the e-book directly from the retailer while standing in the store. She's confident that will be a reality one day, hopefully soon.
In the course of the move, Ada's has upped the staff from five employees to 15. The cafe at the front of the store will serve coffee, breakfast, and lunch, and cafe manager Crystal Blaylock Gee brings out samples of a few of the new dishes, including a delicious pistachio granola, a small cast-iron skillet spilling over with macaroni and cheese, a curried lentil dish, and a gooey hot cinnamon roll. The menu is made in-house, from local ingredients whenever possible.
This obsession with detail doesn't end on the plates; the cafe tables are glass-covered display boxes with scientific paraphernalia inside. One table is filled with locks and locksmith tools. Another has a map of the stars and a gold telescope. And one table is filled with 774 tiny compasses that jitter nervously when you run a cell phone across the top of the table. David Hulton is assembling a working difference engine—an early mechanical computer created by Charles Babbage, research partner of store-namesake computer science pioneer Ada Lovelace—that will be on display, too.
A lot of worried-looking people have approached me at panels and book events to ask me what the future of the bookstore looks like, if the bookstore even has a future. Talking to Hulton about her successful past and promising present, I couldn't be any more confident about the future of bookselling. Ada's looks closer to that future than anywhere else in Seattle, and the future is a beautiful, hopeful place to visit.