Elliot Bay Books

I work in Pioneer Square, Seattle, on Occidental Avenue South—a street with no cars. Around the corner is Elliott Bay Books. Elliott Bay is an intellectual landmark in Seattle’s history, a place that anchors the city in a sea of change. It’s a book store with worn plank floors that groan beneath your feet like a wooden boat working in a seaway. There are as many levels to the store as the Robinson family’s
tree house—the floor suddenly pierced by a staircase that descends to a rough cafe or rises to receding levels of books like a trick of perspective in an Escher print. It reminds me most of the chandleries that still existed on the waterfront of Los Angeles harbor when I was young—the smell of Stockholm tar and Manila hemp and kerosene, the dark and crooked places crowded with ground tackle, hurricane lights, and oilskins, and the old men with scarred faces who stood behind high counters, dour and frightening. Those were places where a child, or an old man, could dream as deeply as a mollusk encompassed by a shell.

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