After 20 years in business, Madison Park's sole bookstore is closing.
Throughout the years, Madison Park Books has been a favorite spot for neighborhood adults and children alike. Customers, most of whom have become regulars and friends of owner Sue Draper's, have enjoyed book group discussions for more than 15 years and have attended signings by local authors.
Draper has especially loved this aspect of owning the store, as the book groups have "opened up a whole world [she] wouldn't have known otherwise." Neighborhood children have enjoyed story times in the back of the store, where a child-size table is surrounded by matching chairs and a plethora of colorful children's books.
Most of Draper's customers come from the close-knit Madison Park community, as well as from the nearby Madison Valley and Madrona neighborhoods. However, a surprising number of people come over from Bellevue also, although without enough regularity to make it possible to start another store in a Bellevue neighborhood, Draper said.
Draper - who has volunteered in other parts of Seattle's cultural scene, such as Madison Park's Jazz in the Park - has been in the book business for many years. Before setting up shop in Madison Park, she owned a book store in Kirkland for five years, but the location wasn't good for business, she said.
Despite this setback, she was determined to continue with book stores, as she thoroughly enjoys what surrounds her when working in the store, she said.
Bookstore employees have included not only any average enthusiastic book lovers, but also people with graduate degrees. By working with such unique people sharing a common, unfailing interest in books, Draper said that "you always learn something."
Draper had been attempting to sell the store for more than a year, she said, because she can no longer afford the high rents of the neighborhood. She initially hoped to sell the business to another bookstore owner but has learned that no small independent bookstores can keep up with such rent, she said.
In fact, in her research, Draper has discovered that independent bookstores are fast disappearing from existence with the rise of chain bookstores: The number of stores like Madison Park Books has declined from 6,000 just a few years ago, to just under 2,500 independent bookstores in the United States.
As such, Draper sold the space to Lisa Loban, owner of Ropa Bella, a small clothing store currently in the Arboretum Court. Loban will move into the bookstore space at the end of the summer.
Loban, who has owned Ropa Bella for the last seven years, hopes that the new location will attract more foot traffic and that the east end of Madison Street will provide more parking spots for more customers.
The new space also provides a more spacious area for Loban to spread out her wares, she said.
The community's loss
The book store will be a sad loss to its many neighborhood customers.
Madrona's Tracey Janney has been a patron of the store for more than 12 years and is a special fan of the children's section. She said that she was shocked when she heard Madison Park Books was closing and said she can't imagine the neighborhood without it.
Madison Park's Jim Kallmer agreed. "Having a bookstore is a real-ly nice touch," he says. "It helps create the neighborhood I'd like Madison Park to be."
The surrounding business owners also are feeling deeply affected by the closure.
Edward Washington, who has worked up the street at the Scoop du Jour ice cream shop for the last 20 years, said, "[The bookstore] is so convenient, I'm really going to miss it."
At Madison Park Hardware, a block north of the bookstore, Lola McKee has used Madison Park Books as her only place to buy books since the store's opening.
"We support our local businesses as much as possible," she said. "It's a huge loss to the neighborhood." McKee said the bookstore is especially valuable to the older people of the neighborhood and the local families with children, as the bookstore is so accessible and within walking distance of many of their homes.
Madison Park Books will officially close its doors on July 17, just after hosting the unveiling of the sixth Harry Potter book.
Draper is, of course, saddened by the end of her career, but looks forward to her retirement as a time to start a garden and perhaps take classes at the University of Washington.
Looking for the best in the situation, Draper said of the store's long existence, "My life has been blessed by these 20 years. It has made me into a better person."