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Originally published Tuesday, March 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Bookstore tale ends on sad note

Something dies when a bookstore closes, when a portal to places and lives not our own shuts tight and forever and for no better reason than...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Something dies when a bookstore closes, when a portal to places and lives not our own shuts tight and forever and for no better reason than money — or lack of it.

It is more painful when the clientele are children, whose minds are rich soil, ready for seeds to be planted.

And so this is an obituary for Hullabaloo Books in West Seattle, where death means 20 percent off almost everything, but certainly not the first editions, because anyone with a heart would pay full price for those. Why add to the pain?

There has been an ongoing wake here since last week, when owners Felicia Oh and Susan Welch announced that the store would close when the inventory was gone.

I stopped in yesterday to pay my respects, and like most wakes, there were people crying and children whining and food out. Folks offered condolences in heavy, wilted tones, and you got the sense that even longtime customers were seeing the place anew: the warm wood bookshelves, the well-worn rugs, the rainbow of bindings that lined the shelves.

For four years, people have come in for story time and author readings, but more to be a part of a community.

It just wasn't enough. Chain-store prices and online convenience simply outdid the place, and so Hullabaloo shared the same fate of The Shop Around the Corner in the movie "You've Got Mail."

People have made the comparison for days now, and Oh and Welch are tired of smiling.

It just hurts.

Davonna Cufley, who frequented the store with her sons, Wilder, 5, and Zane, 2, stood at the counter and cried.

"It's just sad," she said, waving a hand to compose herself. "It's like good friends."

Helga Reese told me she couldn't sleep the night she learned of the closing, "and I'm sure I'm not the only one."

Jane Yolen, who had the honor of being the last author to do a reading at Hullabaloo, looked around and sighed.

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"It's a sign of the times that a community has to close its bookstore," she said. "Tells you more than you want to know about our culture."

The legacy of Hullabaloo Books is that if you want a sense of community, you have to invest in it: make the trip to the store, pay a little more, instead of clicking a mouse.

It isn't as convenient or money-wise, but, over time, you build something.

Oh and Welch like to think that they accomplished what they set out to do: Build a place where people can "Read, Write & Play." Neither has ever taken a salary, but what they will take from the store can't be put in the bank.

The other night, Welch told me, she was leaving the store with her 5-year-old son when she started to cry.

"Business is business and business must grow," the boy said, "regardless of crummies in tummies, you know."

Welch recognized the verse from "The Lorax."

"If nothing else, my son is quoting Dr. Seuss," she said. "And that's a good outcome."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She would've told Hanks to stick it.

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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