Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Company may be my favorite bookstore in the country. It's not as impressive in its mass as its west coast neighbor, Powell's, or Stand on the east coast, which I just visited. Those stores go on for miles and miles (18 in the case of Strand), and it's hard to come up with a title that is not on their shelves (last time I was in Powell's I spent four hours and they had every book that popped into my head). This is all not to say that Elliot Bay is a small bookstore. Quite the contrary, in fact. It's pretty massive itself. But while Powell's and Strand are museums of books, Elliot Bay is able to pull off something that they cannot: Elliot Bay, though a very large store, feels small. It is wood everything and sectioned off in ways that make you feel all alone at times. The coffee shop--a perfect companion to the store--is like an afterthought, a hole cut into the middle of the bookstore to create a space for it in the basement. And the neighborhood where it sits is picturesque and wonderful.
This all being the case I was very excited to see that Rick Simonson, who has worked as a bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company since 1976 (and therefore, in my opinion, is an expert on the matter), had some very nice things to say about Common Good Books in Publishers Weekly on October 28. The whole article is nice and very informative as to the history of books in the Twin Cities, and you can read it here. But here's what Mr. Simonson had to say about our humble little store:
First stop, on the St. Paul side, was Common Good Books (www.commongoodbooks.com). Most known to those of us outside the region as the bookstore that Garrison Keillor owns, it bears the traces of him quite lightly, at least in first glances. A few photos, a poetic salute on the white greaseboard, a stack of signed copies ... they were there. But far and away what caught this eye was how real, how settled a place it felt. Sue Zumberger was there tending things, letting me in before the place normally opened, not so much because of my saying where I was from, but that I was there.
It is a lovely, lively feeling place, the most airy and light I have ever felt a subterranean retail space. The primary entrance comes off a passageway fronted opposite by the local office of the US Congresswoman. Another, surely much-used way in, is a direct stairway treading up to the very convivial corner coffee cafe, Nina's.
Common Good Books celebrates its second birthday this Saturday, November 1. To celebrate, for sure. It feels, in a good, comfy way, like one of those places that's been around much longer. It inhabits its self and place well. The lit sections, such as my eye perused, were great. Skylights angled in from the sidewalk above let whatever light outside in. Then some labyrinthian passages: nooks and crannies abound. There is one angling passageway, taking you in and out of low-ceilinged coziness to daylit airiness within steps. A hideaway couch and chairs worthy of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris is back by the travel books.