Jenna’s experience at Third Place Books, Seattle

Guest Post from Jenna Todd, one of our Kobo scholars to Seattle.

One of the best things about Third Place Books is its name. It was named after sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s idea that everyone needs three places. Your first being your home, second – your work or school, and finally a Third Place- where all walks of life interact. Third Place Books is the deliberate and intentional creation of a community around books and the ideas inside them.third_place_books

Third Place Books has been operating since 1998 about 30 minutes North of Seattle city. It is HUGE and is located on the top floor of the Lake Forest Park Town Centre (pictured). Housing 200,000 books, I would say it’s about 200 times bigger than Time Out. Second hand books sit very comfortably among the new titles and it has the wooden shelves, leather chairs and friendly staff that make it super cozy and welcoming.

revenna_third_placeI was very lucky to be staying with some new friends who lived near the store. I had actually met them as customers at Time Out while they were holidaying in New Zealand. (It always pays to chat to people!) So I had a very comfortable home base, with the Gibauts and their cat, also named Jenna.

On my first day, I had an in depth tour of the large premises and then I was off to Third Place’s second store in Ravenna (left). The Ravenna store opened in 2002, is a lot smaller and it also has a greek restaurant attached as well as a pub downstairs. We had arrived on this Monday to prepare and observe an author luncheon for Ishmael Beah, the Sierra Leonean author of A Long Way Gone. For $40US, patrons received a copy of his new book, Radiance of Tomorrow and a set menu lunch. 30 or so guests paid, came and listened to him speak and read. They had many exciting authors booked for future months and they had just recently had Ann Patchett as a guest. pp_ruth_ozeki_jenna_todd

On the Wednesday night, we had an author talk from Ruth Ozeki. RUTH OZEKI! (Jemma with Ruth above) This was a small talk that had 120 customers in store. She is such an engaging and wonderful speaker – it was such a treat. Third Place has had the most amazing authors come though. John Green drew a crowd of 1000 (these large events are held in the community commons area.) Paul McCartney and Julie Andrews are fondly remembered guests. Oh to be on the major tour circuit!third_place_shelves

Over the week, I browsed the shelves, stood at the info counter, observed a rep meeting and tried to get my head around their computer systems. Most of all and what I found most valuable, was speaking to the staff – which were completely open and engaging, and were extremely generous with their time. One hilarious thing I learned was that bookshop customer questions are universal, “I woke up to the radio last night, and I heard about this interesting book but I don’t know the title or author…”

A store the size of Third Place runs quite differently than our wee store. They have over 30 staff, who have every hour of their shift scheduled. Each staff member has their own genre section, putting out stock and retrieving returns. Third Place own an espresso book machine (shown below), they can print an out of print or self-published title in about 5 minutes! They have events about 4 or 5 nights of the week. And their books are very cheap, their margins are great and customers pay the small amount of tax at the counter.third_place_press

I don’t think I could ever sum up the results from my scholarship fully. I learned so much that I think I have learned things that I don’t realise I’ve learned. I am extremely grateful to Kobo and Booksellers NZ for giving me this opportunity, it’s so exciting that young booksellers in New Zealand are being celebrated and nurtured. Thank you, thank you!

Article by Jenna Todd.

For her report on Wi9, please link through here.

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