Seattle’s only poetry bookstore seeks new ownership

Mar 9, 2016, 5:29 PM | Updated: Mar 10, 2016, 8:01 am
Owner John Marshall inside Open Books(Photo by Rachel Belle)...
Owner John Marshall inside Open Books(Photo by Rachel Belle)
(Photo by Rachel Belle)

When poet and poetry teacher Jane Wong first moved to Seattle she immediately paid a visit to Open Books, an all-poetry bookstore in Wallingford.

“It’s a super important place,” she said. “That was a great space for me to meet writers, a great place of just meeting of the minds.”

So it’s understandable that concern was raised when news broke that the owners of the “super important place” were retiring. After nearly 21 years, bookstore owners Christine Deavel and John Marshall are ready to close their chapter at the shop, and are hoping someone else can open a new one.

“I just turned 64,” Marshall said. “And I want to see what life is like not owning a bookstore.”

Marshall and Deavel live above the shop &#8212 they own the building. So their goal is to keep it open, and sell it to the perfect candidate.

“What we want to hear out of them is if they have bookstore experience because the bookstore industry is a very strange animal,” Marshall said. “If you don’t know it, it can be quite a steep learning curve.”

“If they know poetry well because people come in not knowing anything and asking questions; you’ve got to be able to talk,” he said. “Have energy and some money because there’s not a lot of money in Open Books.”

But business is good. When news of Marshall’s retirement first broke, most assumed that a small poetry bookstore would be closing because of financial reasons. After all, “Who buys poetry at a brick and mortar bookstore anymore?” But Marshall notes the last two years have been among the most successful in the shop’s history.

“People assume our customers are from the UW, by and large. That’s not true. We have customers who are Metro bus drivers, paralegals, doctors and the UW,” Marshall said. “Poetry is an art form that more people are interested in than people think are interested in.”

The fact that Seattle has an all-poetry bookstore is indeed very special.

“There are four of them now in the country,” Marshall said. “When we opened there was one, so we doubled the number and it has since doubled.”

Seattle’s poetry scene

Customer Jane Wong may not be surprised to hear about Open Books’ current success. She says Seattle’s poetry scene is large, diverse and thriving. And Open Books does a great job of catering to all tastes.

“They also have special things in there, like, for poet nerds, (such as) chapbooks and special edition stuff. It feels very curated, very careful,” Wong said. “And you know, there’s Dick’s burgers across the street and there’s tacos right over to the side. So to me, it’s like, ‘what else could you want?’ Gross, delicious snacks and then books.”

A lot of people might think a poetry bookstore is exclusive, snobby, something for the elite. But Wong and Marshal say the Open Books is for everyone.

Jane is the first person in her family to graduate from high school, and she now holds a Ph.D. in literature. her first book of poetry, “Overpour,” is due out soon.

“I think people are afraid of poetry because it doesn’t really give us immediate information,” Wong said. “Poetry asks you to add your own take on it, to experience it more than gain something from it.”

“So I feel like when people get nervous around poetry, it’s because they’re like, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ I don’t either!” she said. “And no one really does, and that’s okay. It’s okay not to get it, you’re not supposed to get it, you’re supposed to enjoy it for reasons that sometimes you can’t articulate.”

In about a week since word of his retirement got out, Marshal has already received 30 queries from people interested in buying the shop.

“People want to ‘Save Poetry’ in Seattle as though poetry needs saving,” he said. “Poetry is this ancient art form that Open Books cannot kill.”

  • listen to rachel belleTune in to KIRO Newsradio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
Who is Rachel Belle?

Your Last Meal

Rachel Belle

Kat Lieu bakes in her home kitchen. (Photo by Jake Young)...
Rachel Belle

A Renton woman inspired bake sales around the world to stop Asian hate

Renton's Kat Lieu created Subtle Asian Baking on Facebook to create a community conversation around baking Asian treats, but it transformed into a fundraising effort that's raised tens of thousands of dollars. 
5 days ago
Owner Sophia Walker believes in fitness AND doughnuts. (Photo courtesy of Sophia Walker)...
Rachel Belle

Seattle’s No Judgement Fitness is a safe space for the LGBTQ community to workout

No Judgement Fitness is mirror free and focuses on body positivity, not weight loss. 
11 days ago
(Brooke Lark/Unsplash)...
Rachel Belle

New LinkedIn data shows more women are promoted to manager in Seattle than any other city

Women in Seattle are 80% more likely than the national average to advance to manager. 
13 days ago
Marsha and Matt Owen opened Skein & Tipple, in Clinton, last Tuesday. (Photo by Rachel Belle)...
Rachel Belle

Skein and Tipple: Whidbey Island’s newest craft cocktail bar is also a yarn store

Yarn up front, cocktails in back! When the liquor control board told the owners they must have live entertainment, they cooked up Tuesday Knit Night. 
18 days ago
Irene Crawford (left) looks at Beatles memorabilia in her little sister Barbara Horn’s scrapbook....
Rachel Belle

Seattle sisters saw the Beatles in 1964, return to the same venue tonight to see Paul McCartney

Barbara Horn and Irene Crawford reminisce about seeing Beatles at Seattle Center in 1964.
21 days ago
(Photo by Ingrid Barrentine, courtesy of Alaska Airlines)...
Rachel Belle

Alaska Airlines is the first US carrier to introduce gender neutral uniforms

Alaska Airlines' new policy gives also all employees permission to wear makeup, earrings, fingernail polish, and gender-neutral uniforms.
27 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Seattle’s only poetry bookstore seeks new ownership