Magnolian's bookstore serves rare niche market

For most businesses, "location, location, location" is key to success. For Englishman David Hutchinson, however, it's topic, topic, topic.

Hutchinson owns Flora & Fauna Books, which opened in Magnolia last November after being located in Pioneer Square for 20 years and, before that, five years in Belltown.

That his business is so old is "a monument to stubbornness and stupidity," Hutchinson joked in a recent interview in the store at 3121 W. Government Way near Discovery Park.

The business has also managed to survive at a time when small-to-medium-sized bookstores are going out of business at a record pace, he noted. "That model no longer works," he said of such independent booksellers.

These days, Hutchinson said, bookstores need to be huge, like Internet-based, or small, such as outlets like his that serve niche markets.

In fact, he added, Flora & Fauna is the only bookstore of its kind in North America. "Most businesses like mine operate out of homes or warehouses."

Hutchinson said he was forced out of Pioneer Square because of rising rents. "We were replaced by a DVD store," he said with a frown. But there's a certain advantage to his new location; he lives just a block or so away from the store. "It's funny," Hutchinson added. "I can walk to work, and I'm always late."

And while opening a new store near his home is certainly convenient, it has had little effect on what Hutchinson describes as a worldwide customer base.

His selection of a couple thousand different titles reflects that. "We try to have everything on natural history for different regions in the world," he said. Those regions include North and South America, for example, along with Africa, Asia, Europe and the Mideast.

Hutchinson's customers have included, among others, city, state and federal governmental agencies, tech companies, botanical gardens in Singapore, someone who needed 14 copies of guides to orchids in Papua, New Guinea, and a California artist who was looking for an image of a raccoon's hind quarters for a park sign she was painting. Hutchinson couldn't help the artist, and he only had a few copies of the orchids book, he said.

Selections on plants are also divided into subcategories such as native and wildlife plants, mushrooms, food plants and plants used for restoring wetlands, Hutchinson said of some areas of interest.

And sections dealing with birds include watching them, finding them, conservation and captive breeding of endangered species, he said of some other specialized topics.

Flora & Fauna gets its books from 600 to 700 publishers, some of which publish only a couple books a year, Hutchinson said. "We depend on obscure things," he added. "Our books tend to be hard-core information books."

Hutchinson said he reads all the books he sells and figures he's read enough to qualify for a biology degree. But he also depends on the book-buying public for tips. "My customers tell me what books to keep and to get," he said.

Hutchinson has walk-in customers, including several on the day he was interviewed for this story, one of whom bought a slim volume titled "Birding in Babylon"-a book written by a soldier who has been bird-watching in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

But walk-in traffic is not the only way Hutchinson sells his specialized books. "We do have a Web site," he said of, where people can buy books. "But we seem to do most of our business on the phone (206-623-4727) or by fax (206-623-2001)."

Hutchinson is cautiously optimistic that interest is growing in the kinds of books he sells. "The first 10 years, I couldn't see anything about preservation or ecology," he said. But duck hunters are environmentalists now, gardeners are now wildlife gardeners and birders need to be preservation birders these days, Hutchinson said of a few examples.

It may be a losing battle, he said of trying to make city dwellers more environmentally conscious. "But I think everybody is really trying to make the urban environment as nature friendly as possible."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at (206) 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]