Shorey's Used And Rare: Seattle's Oldest Bookstore Is On The Verge Of The Computer Search Era (2023)

“How does this relate to persistence?” Alma Turner, a stunned woman from North Seattle, recently wrote in The Times. "Not only was I pleased that the book was found, but I was also surprised that it took nineteen years to find it. Apparently, Shorey never gives up."

In fact, he never gives up.

On May 21, 1971, Turner ordered an out-of-print book by David E. Roberts, The Grandeur and Misery of Man, published by Oxford University Press in 1955, at Shorey's Bookshop. On June 12, 1990, Shorey informed him that they had finally found the book.

"I just looked at this ad, showed it to my husband and we both started laughing," Turner wrote.

She is not alone in her amazement and joy. These stories are countless, as Shorey's has been doing similar feats for a century: the family-owned institution is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, becoming Seattle's oldest bookstore and one of the oldest in the country.

Homer Henderson, who has worked at Shorey's since 1974, recalls responding to a customer who was told that the book he was looking for had finally arrived: "Well," he said, "I have it for my daughter on order." accept for my granddaughter. ''

For years, your order has been part of Shorey's "Customer Needs List," a giant file of 3-by-5 ​​cards that all orders go into whenever a standard book search (phone calls and magazine deals for old books) proves fruitless. after three or four months.

"We don't throw away those 'wants' until we find the book or the customer tells us they don't want it anymore," says Jim Todd, 36, who married his father, J.W. "Bill" Todd, who runs the store. “We sell at least 100 books that are on our wish list every month.

"There's hardly a book where you have to say, 'I can't help you,'" adds Todd, "because we always have opportunities to dig deeper." get the book eventually."

In the near future, they may get it sooner or later. Shorey's book search service and "wish list" will be computerized. Todd says this will allow them to do more than double the 300 to 400 tedious book searches they now do every month.

According to some opinions, computerization will also allow them to enter the 20th century book market. A veteran observer of Seattle's antique book scene said, "One thing you could say about Shorey's is that it's a very fine specimen of a 19th-century bookstore that's still in business."

Anyone who has visited its labyrinthine neighborhoods at 110 Union St., between First and Second Avenues, can agree. The Shorey store on the second floor of the former office building, its main retail level, is a maze of 34 rooms packed from floor to ceiling with books. Despite its size, it has a cozy, shabby feel, with an air that reeks of antique furniture and old wallpaper.

"The only thing I really don't like is hardcore, but other than that we try to have a little bit of everything in stock," says Bill Todd, who at 75 has been with the company for 57 years. “I imagine that if we count paperbacks, we must have a million volumes in stock. And if we count letters, magazines, old prints, maps and ephemera, we probably have another million."

The breadth of your collection, not the depth, is Shorey's business value. As young Todd readily admits, “It's harder to make the business profitable when you're doing everything under the sun, but fundamentally our philosophy is to try to fill in the gaps. And if there is a gap in a topic, we will try to fill it, including with new books.” New books, he said, represent only about 5% of Shorey's business.

This everything-under-the-sun philosophy doesn't always earn the respect of other Seattle antique dealers, who tend to be experts at dealing with a fairly narrow range of subjects.

"Shorey's is something of an anomaly in the business, and a lot of what he does is a little ridiculous to others in the industry," says W.O. Moye, an industry veteran and self-proclaimed talkative curmudgeon who sells used books from his North Seattle home. "Quantity is not always necessarily an indication of quality or even knowledge."

Astute observers also take issue with Shorey's practice of taking book collections on consignment rather than buying them outright.

"That's what you want: a nice, clean cut," said Robert Monroe, retired director of special collections at the University of Washington Library. "The seller gets paid, and then you take the collection and try to get the best possible price."

However, Monroe added that Shorey's practice "still gives people the opportunity to buy books that don't come out very often". And Shorey's Jim Todd defends this practice, claiming that a consignment arrangement allows them to make more money for the seller than an initial cash purchase, unless the seller is short of cash.

Monroe also noted that Shorey's has strong collections in certain areas (American West, Alaska and Natural History), but that the store is "much less selective" in most areas.

"That approach left them with a lot of materials that had been sitting in the store for a long time," Monroe said. “Now, of course, they see that as a strong trait. If you are interested in aviation, fiction or history, this is certainly a bookstore you would love to visit."

Shorey really appreciates its friendly, informal atmosphere, he said. "Always go where you feel comfortable, I think, and familiarizing yourself with the bookseller is key."

Some Seattle book lovers know each other so well they've been frequenting the dusty halls of Shorey for half a century. And when the store moved to its current location in 1975, many of them jumped into action and formed a sort of book transport brigade.

"Some of our regular customers were volunteers," recalls Jim Todd, who entered the business that year after deciding against majoring in architecture. "They helped us and we gave them credit to buy books."

The brigade will likely return to active duty once plans are nearly complete for a move to a new downtown location in the South Arcade Building at the south end of Pike Place Market, across from Shorey's current location. The move is fueled by a desire to find a long-term home that is somewhat sheltered from the rising rents of the First Avenue renovation, while remaining accessible to regular customers and market-generated foot traffic.

The move is the fourth since Samuel F. Shorey, Bill Todd's great-uncle, opened his first bookshop near Third Avenue and Yesler Way in 1890. A year later, he moved to Third and Cherry, where he remained until 1922. , when it moved to the corner of Third and Marion. In 1975 the store moved to its current location. Older Todd has observed most of these changes.

"Uncle Sam started it and Dad worked with him, but they didn't get along," said Todd, whose shy appearance soon reveals a man with very different interests and deeply held opinions. "Sam was a demanding bachelor who hated women very much and revealed his feelings."

Todd's father returned to the family home in North Dakota and operated a hardware store until Sam's death in 1932. The family has run it ever since.

"People who think it's a good intellectual pursuit don't realize it's hard work," said Todd, who started there in 1933.

Todd is the rarest combination of teetotaler and dedicated rainbow trout fisherman, and with his son Jim taking on more day-to-day business decisions, he has time to pursue another passion: writing ("I've Been a Hack My Whole Life"). . Life; I find it really easy and some people seem to like it.'')

In recent years, Todd has written humorous verse, Japanese haiku, and essays for friends and clients on everything from drugs and alcohol to Mikhail Gorbachev ("I'm a Bit of a Fan of Yours"). He is also working on the history of the Shorey Bookstore as he tries to interest a library in his collection of a quarter of a million personal and company letters, including correspondence with Jack London and President Harry S. Truman, which make up much of the company's history. the vestiges of the book trade. In seattle.

Among other things, this material is reminiscent of Shorey Publications, a publishing arm that thrived from the 1960s through the late 1970s and provided students and academics with offset photographic reproductions of rare items until the IRS cracked down on publishers' claims. . .

It would also tell a brief history of the four smaller bookstores that Shorey spawned in the 1970s and early 1980s, as well as highlight prominent Seattle antiquarian book dealers such as Robert Mattila and Don Glover who were Shorey employees. That team is now pretty stable at around 10.

"I've thought about starting my own business a few times," admits Homer Henderson, 16, a Princeton graduate who started working there while earning a master's in library science at the UW. "But I like the camaraderie at Shorey's, I like being part of an organization. I don't know if 'venerable' is the right word, but Shorey's has been around a long time."

And it's guaranteed to last longer:

"It's a mind-boggling and incredibly challenging business," says Bill Todd. ". . . I wish I had another 70 years to do this.

"I would redeem the world tomorrow, if I could, with literature and books."


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