My Independent Bookstore Day Adventure

If you missed it, Saturday, April 27th was Independent Bookstore Day all across America. Here in Seattle, where I live, independent bookstores across the area participate in Seattle Independent Bookstore Day by issuing their customers the Passport Challenge. What is it? Stop at your favorite independent bookstore across Puget Sound, get your passport stamped, maybe buy some books, meet the book seller, get back in the car, and do it TWENTY MORE TIMES!

What’s at stake? If you get your passport stamped by all 21 stores you become a card-carrying Grand Champion. Also, you get 25% off any purchase at any of the participating stores for the entire year.

Challenge accepted.

This year, my wife, our two kiddos and our friend, L, came along for the epic journey.

Here are the details: 21 bookstores, 132 miles, two ferry rides, and a few donut/coffee/bathroom/lunch stops. My wife and the kiddos would hang on for as long as they could stand it. And hopefully, one (or maybe two) of us would endure and come out victorious by the end of the night.

Here’s how it went down:

8:30am PST
Our band heads out. Immediately we face a logistical challenge. We need to hit two bookstores in Edmonds and get in line for the 9:35am ferry over to Kingston for our next stops.

9:02am PST
We are some the first people to step into Neverending Bookshop. We meet the friendly staff. We get a book full of sharks for the kiddos. We pick up our passport and get our first stamp of the day, a dragon. We are feeling pretty good.

9:21am PST
Phew! Downtown Edmonds is crowded. Luckily, we find two parking spots near Edmonds Bookshop. Wow, there’s a line to get in to the store. But it goes fast. We get our stamp, a big blue butterfly, and get out, hoping to catch the 9:35am ferry to across the sound to Kingston.

9:27am PST
Google Maps, where are you taking us?

9:42am PST
Finally, we get in line for the ferry. Pretty sure we aren’t going to make the 9:35am. A setback, for sure. We can’t afford mistakes like this for the rest—oh, look. A donut shop.

10:17am PST
One old-fashioned glazed for me, a coffee for my wife, a donut hole for L, and a chocolate cake with sprinkles for the kids and we are back into our cars with a little more pep in our step, ready for that 10:25 ferry.

10:36am PST
It should be said: this whole time, my wife, L and I are talking about books, books, and more books.

10:51am PST
Volunteering to drive the kids alone for the thirty-some-odd minute drive to our next stop in Poulsbo now doesn’t seem as great of an idea as when I proposed it. In the rearview, I see a shoe come off. I hear a scream. I hope L and my wife are having a good time in the other car. There goes another shoe.   

10:58am PST
The shoes back on the proper feet, we stop at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo. Man, what a pretty shop, in a great little neighborhood. L buys a book, her first of many. Liberty Bay’s stamp is a book with wings and some…brooms? Huh. On to Bainbridge!

11:19am PST
The kiddos and my wife call it a day and head back the way they came, which just leaves L and me. Until now, we’ve been doing a lot of driving and not getting a lot of stamps. L wonders if we are on schedule. I assure her we are, though, I have to admit, I’m having some doubts as well. What’s nice is the next two bookstores, Eagle Harbor Book Co. and The Traveler are on the same street. We only have to park once. We get stamped—a non-descript, cute-looking bird and a capital ‘T’, respectively—and we are on our way to our second ferry trip, which will bring us into downtown Seattle.

12:15pm PST
We find yet another great parking spot a mere half-block away from Arundel Books in Pioneer Square. Inside, the ceilings are high and the shelves go on forever. I feel like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Also, I see a book I just finished and loved and point it out to L. She gets it! I feel pretty good as the checker lady stamps a big, red ‘A’ on our passport.

12:31pm PST
Have to pay to park for our next stop, but that’s ok. Elliott Bay Books, the iconic Seattle independent bookstore, is bustling. People are running around, the lines are long, the whole place is humming. We slip in, get a stamp of the store’s logo, and we get out.

12:42pm PST
Ada’s Technical Books and Café is next on the list. What a great space. There is a cute little coffee bar as you walk in, the white wood panel walls go great with the dark wood floors, there seem to be secret rooms in the back where you can get booze and study, and the books, which are stuffed into this what looks like a former house, have a science and tech focus. I order a coffee and wish I could just stay. But it’s already pushing 1pm and we’re only six down. We get our stamp of Ada Lovelace, the namesake of the bookstore and head over to Queen Anne Hill.

1:10pm PST
Parking is tough this time around. After a quarter mile walk, we pop into Queen Anne Book Company. This place is packed too. As we set our passports on the counter, ready for our stamps, someone next to us sees them and feels he has to comment, “Boy, I don’t know if you guys are going to make it.” Thanks for the concern, pal. After we get a red crown stamp, we walk a little faster back to the car. We need to get going.

1:15pm PST
On our way to the next bookstore, it occurs to L and me that we haven’t even eaten lunch. We make a quick U turn that might or might not have been legal, race in for some food at a nearby grocery store (I get a buffalo chicken wrap) and race back out.

1:30-3:00pm PST
The weather has turned. It is now raining. We go on a blitzkrieg. We hit and get stamps from Magnolia’s Bookstore, Secret Garden Books, and my home bookstore, Phinney Books, where I buy my first book of the day. Next we hit Book Larder, a cookbook store with a kitchen that you can actually use inside the bookstore. L buys a cookbook whose author makes the best faces when she eats food she likes. Then it’s the poetry bookstore, Open Books: a Poem Emporium (seriously, how lucky are we in Seattle where we have a bookstore that’s dedicated to poetry?). And finally, to cap it off, University Book Store, where we were in and out so fast, that the guy in the parking lot we parked in waved our fee and said, “Just enjoy the rest of your day.” Thank you, kind sir.

3:28pm PST
We head down I-5 South. Traffic is a mess and I’m fearing this next bookstore—not because of the bookstore itself, I love it, but because last year, I got my directions all knotted up and couldn’t get back onto I-5, taking instead a thirty-or-so-minute detour that shaved precious time off my schedule and raised my cortisol levels to unhealthy amounts. In my head, this year would be different…

3:34pm PST
…And it is. This time I get off I-5 and accidentally get right back on, heading the way I came from. The Google Maps fail/rerouting alarm doesn’t help matters. The good news is, it looks like only a twenty-or-so-minute detour this time. Progress.

3:54ish pm PST
Finally, we get to Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, and man, it’s worth the detour. Fantagraphics is actually a publisher of comics, and this is their storefront. It has comics they’ve published, rarities, out-of-print editions, all the stuff comic geeks crave. And it’s housed next to Georgetown Records. I wish we could stay, but I’ve put us twenty minutes behind and some of the stores we haven’t hit yet are going to close soon. Onward!

4:21pm PST
Google Maps says the next stop is in Burien. Phew, that’s a trek. But when we finally get down to the southernmost bookstore on the list, we easily find a parking spot (hot tip: those thirty minute-or-less parking spots on the street with the curb painted yellow aren’t your enemies for this journey like they are when you’re trying to park to do real-life things. They actually are perfect for what you’re trying to do on this adventure and they are always open, so seek them out). Page 2 Books is a newcomer this year. It, like all the rest of the bookstores, is packed. Pretty awesome. We get our stamp and head back North.

4:57pm PST
We get to Mercer Island and its bookstore, Island Books (very appropriate name). Inside, manual typewriters line the walls. After we get our stamps, I remember that I haven’t eaten my buffalo chicken wrap. I fish it out of the back of the car. It’s delicious.

5:20pm PST
We get off the island and head NE to Redmond. The sun comes out again. For a brief second, we wonder if we made a disastrous error and missed a bookstore that already closed for the day. But we check and it turns out, we are ok. So, we talk about more books.

5:25-6:30pm PST
We make our final three stops: Brick & Mortar Books, BookTree Kirkland and Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, just north of where I live. L and I get those last stamps, look at our passports with a mix of pride and exhaustion, hand them in and walk out of our last bookstore of the day. The sun is setting. It’s been a good Saturday.

Here is my receipt:

Thank you to all the independent booksellers out there, both in Seattle and across the country. Maybe next year, we’ll get crazy and do what this guy did.

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