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Originally published Sunday, August 3, 2014 at 6:07 AM

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A final chapter for rare-book seller Wessel & Lieberman

Wessel & Lieberman, the Pioneer Square bookstore specializing in rare and collectible books, is going out of business after two decades. Its collection of 10,000-plus titles will be liquidated over the next month.

Seattle Times book editor


Lit Life

The closing of a bookstore always causes a little lurch of my heart. While Seattle readers support a robust network of independent bookstores, every so often a star in the firmament winks out.

One such star is Wessel & Lieberman, the rare and collectible bookstore in Pioneer Square. Its going-out-of-business sale continues off and on for the next month or until “all the books are sold,” says co-owner Mark Wessel (go to for details).

I caught up with Wessel to discuss the factors that led him to close the store after two decades.

This is not an Amazon-killed-the bookstore story, Wessel insists. It’s more a matter of proximity — buying a one-of-a-kind book often demands a personal visit.

People interested in a book, not just for the words within but as an object, want to examine its condition, its design, its illustrations — the heft and feel of the paper, the elegance of the type. Much of the rare and collectible book market has moved online, including a substantial chunk of Wessel & Lieberman’s business. But partly because of their love for the aesthetics of books, many of the store’s customers still prefer to look at and hold a book before they buy it.

That desire endures, but what seems to be changing is the pace of life, the ever-accumulating pile of must-dos we all seem to face. Says Wessell: “I honestly believe it’s a cultural shift, not just a bookselling shift. People don’t do things the way they did 20 years ago. We just don’t have as much free time.”

Wessel is relatively bullish on Pioneer Square, where prime office space is at a premium. What’s missing is available time — people’s willingness to drive, search for a parking space and spend a couple hours looking at books.

The store still has 10,000 to 12,000 volumes to choose from, though Wessel is negotiating with a library for the sale of its Northwest collection. It has a poetry collection of about 3,000 volumes. Handmade books. Books on photography.

“I am hopeful people will come in because there are so many interesting books. It took us twenty-something years for us to put it together; you can’t just tear it apart in two months. ... A window is closing,” says Wessel.

Better news: Seattle writer Ivan Doig has received a lifetime-achievement award from the Willamette Writers group, an Oregon-based organization said to be one of the oldest and largest writers’ groups in the country. Doig picked up his award this past weekend. Other recipients have included Beverly Cleary, Bill Stafford, Ursula le Guin and Barry Lopez. Doig is touring for the paperback version of his novel “Sweet Thunder” — he appears Tuesday, Aug. 5 at the University Book Store in Seattle, Saturday, Aug. 9 at the Queen Anne Book Co., Aug. 14 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co., Aug. 21 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, and Aug. 26 at Parkplace Books in Kirkland.

More better news: Seattle author David Neiwert’s nonfiction book “And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border has won first place in the International Latino Book Awards for the best Latino-focused nonfiction book published in English. It’s the story of a murder that played out amid anti-immigrant anger along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or Gwinn appears every Tuesday on TVW's "Well Read," discussing books with host Terry Tazioli (go to for archived episodes). On Twitter @gwinnma.

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