Bookstore's closing "the end of an era"
Imagine just about anything that could be printed on paper: posters, postcards, pamphlets, letters, manuscripts, invitations — and...
Seattle Times staff reporters
Imagine just about anything that could be printed on paper: posters, postcards, pamphlets, letters, manuscripts, invitations — and box after box after box of books.
That's what David Ishii was virtually swimming through Wednesday as he worked to dismantle the small bookstore he opened in Pioneer Square in 1972. "Oh, oh. What's this?" Ishii said at one point, lifting an envelope for closer inspection. "A phone bill I haven't paid."
Along First Avenue South, the hand-lettered "David Ishii, Bookseller" sign, which went up when Richard Nixon was president and America was fighting in Vietnam, is coming down by the end of the month.
And as it does, Pioneer Square is saying goodbye not just to a bookseller, but a baseball fan, opera buff, patron of the arts, wide-ranging conversationalist, patient listener and unofficial neighborhood ambassador.
"It really is the end of an era," says Michael Lieberman, co-owner of Pioneer Square's Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers. "He may be the last bookshop to go that doesn't have a computer."
It's true, Ishii still operates without a computer — without even taking credit cards. If all you carry is plastic, you can take your books home and mail him a check.
"Over the years, just a few people have not paid," he said. "Either they simply forgot or they died."
Indeed, the bookstore outlasted many of its patrons, and Ishii points proudly to the chair where the late Seattle Times columnist Emmett Watson "would sit right there and smoke like crazy, reading newspapers, magazines, books."
Wednesday afternoon, a two-man crew from Powell's City of Books in Portland arrived to look over Ishii's inventory of several thousand books. "I hope they take everything," Ishii said quietly as they began their assessment.
But two hours later, after finding out that Powell's was only interested in a small portion of what he had, Ishii decided to hold a half-price sale until the end of December, unless he finds another bookseller to buy him out.
At 70, he is leaving partly for health reasons and partly because he expects the rent to rise under the building's new owner.
But saying goodbye won't be easy for those who've come to view him as part of the Pioneer Square landscape.
"I'm sort of in denial about him leaving. He's been such a great presence down here," said Rick Simonson, senior buyer for Elliott Bay Book Company, a half-block to the south.
Simonson said Ishii, who until recently lived in Pioneer Square, has been a link among the neighborhood's sometimes disparate communities — residents, merchants, sports fans, art enthusiasts.
Another longtime friend, owner Ken Davidson of Robins Jewelers, remembers meeting Ishii in 1972 as "a fellow who drove a white Porsche, loved fishing and baseball and knew a lot about whatever I wanted to talk about."
Ishii, whose quiet demeanor is slightly contradicted by the jaunty fisherman's cap he habitually wears, looks considerably younger than his years.
He opened the bookstore at 212 First Ave. S. on May 9, 1972, after working for years in advertising with The Seattle Times and Seattle Magazine. His aim in opening up a bookshop was "to fulfill my intellectual fantasies — and my friends' fantasies."
The store's early specialties were fly-fishing books, Northwest history and Asian Americana. But Ishii was open to whatever came his way that he could sell.
"One time I got a wonderful collection on butterflies and moths. That doesn't happen too often. Another time we got a very good collection on children's books. When we get collections in depth is when we're able to expand our store."
Ishii isn't a pure Luddite when it comes to computers. But he does feel the advent of the computer age in secondhand book selling has had an unfortunate effect, especially on book buying.
"I really like going to people's houses, where people live, and buy their books. There's nothing like that. But now booksellers often buy online. I do that by having someone help me, buying some special books for customers. But I don't like to do it because the thrill of going and seeing the book, and buying the book, and touching it, is gone."
By going into people's homes and seeing books on the shelves, he says, "you get an idea what their interests were. And I like that idea for the store — that when people walk into the store, what they see is what they get. They know that the book may have faults. Or maybe it's in true, nice, fine condition. They can see it and touch it."
Ishii ranged all around the Seattle area, including Bellevue, Lynnwood and Everett, hunting for sellable books. "That was the fun part of it," he says.
One of his most unusual finds was in West Seattle. He and fellow bookseller Taylor Bowie, when putting the store together in 1971, had gone up to Everett looking for books and had no luck.
"But we had one more place to go in the evening, and it was West Seattle. We went out to the house and we looked at the books. And there were, you know, some OK books."
When he got back to the shop, one of those books caught Ishii's eye. It was about an order of Freemasons, and every person listed in it, with accompanying photograph and short biography, was African American.
"I quickly turned to one name that I remembered was a Seattle name," Ishii recalls, "and that was 'Gayton.' They're a very large and well-known family in Seattle." John Thomas Gayton helped found the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Central District; his grandson, Carver Gayton, was appointed as director of the Northwest African American Museum earlier this year.
Sure enough, the Gaytons were listed.
For Ishii, the book opened a door on local African-American society: "I thought, 'Wow.' It was mostly all Seattle people. A lot of black families came through Roslyn, Washington — there was a mining company out there — on their way to the Seattle area. And it was a fabulous book. It's a very scarce book, and I've only seen two copies of it."
Everything in the store is being sold off, but even now, as you browse, there's a sense of being immersed in one man's mind and history. Sports memorabilia, including a lively cartoon of Ichiro, and headshots of Asian-American writers, including a very young Shawn Wong, the novelist and University of Washington professor, are hung all around the shop.
Near Wong are two Civilian Exclusion Order No. 18 notices, issued April 24, 1942, notifying Japanese-American citizens that they need to ready themselves for removal to internment camps during World War II. Ishii was interned at age 7 with his family during the war.
As for Ishii's plans, he's looking forward to spending more time reading the Sunday New York Times and The New Yorker and going to movies in the afternoon. He also intends to "futz around" and see his friends.
"I'll spend a little more time with my books," he said. "And actually read them."
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222; firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
Furniture & home furnishings
POST A FREE LISTING