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Originally published December 9, 2009 at 4:54 PM | Page modified December 10, 2009 at 6:08 PM

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Elliott Bay Book Co. moving to Capitol Hill

The Elliott Bay Book Co. is moving to Capitol Hill after 36 years in Pioneer Square.

Seattle Times business reporter

Hurt by the recession and ongoing issues in Pioneer Square, Elliott Bay Book Co. is leaving after 36 years for an old Ford truck-repair center on Capitol Hill.

Construction is under way at 1521 10th Ave., where the bookstore will open as early as March.

It will liven up a relatively quiet stretch of Capitol Hill between Pine and Pike streets that's surrounded by new restaurants and shops.

Bookstore owner Peter Aaron said he expects sales to improve immediately and in a big way.

"Here are the factors I'm looking at: parking, population, daytime and nighttime vitality and foot traffic, the absence of stadiums and conflicts with parking and crowding," he said. "It's the attractiveness and safety and vibrancy of the location."

Reactions on Capitol Hill were mixed, with some people lamenting what it means for one of the oldest parts of the city.

"They're the heart and soul of Pioneer Square," said Lourdes Orive, a customer at the Gary Manuel Aveda Institute across the street from Elliott Bay's future location. "It's going to leave a big hole."

Others could not stifle their excitement, particularly after the loss last month of Bailey/Coy Books on Broadway, a longtime community hub that fell victim to the recession and the changing economics of bookselling.

"It will bring tourism up here, because people know its name and search it out," said Armand Pacheco, manager of the institute's student salon. "One of my clients ran into [former President] Bill Clinton at Elliott Bay, and that kind of notoriety will move to the Hill."

Elliott Bay's rent on Capitol Hill is "comparable" to what it paid in Pioneer Square, but "rent was not really the factor," Aaron said. "It's about sales."

The bookstore has struggled to make it since Aaron and Ron Sher bought it 11 years ago from founder Walter Carr. Sher is no longer an owner.

The situation became dire after last fall, when sales plunged so precipitously that Aaron maxed out a line of credit just to keep operating. He wasn't sure the store would stay in business.

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With its current lease ending in January, he began to consider moving.

Sales perked up in recent months and, Aaron said, "Our financing is in place going forward."

Aaron is thrilled about 85 parking spaces for the new location that will be either cheap or free to customers.

Parking was one of the issues in Pioneer Square, which Aaron said also needs a more visible police presence and a neighborhood organization that speaks with one voice.

Having one voice could be difficult in an area where restaurants and bars benefit greatly from big events like football games, which hurt other merchants because of game-day parking shortages and slower tourist traffic.

Elliott Bay's new neighborhood, a couple blocks north of Seattle University, has morphed in recent years from an area known for nightclubs into one that has a mix of businesses, including popular restaurants like Oddfellows Café, Bimbos Cantina and Boom Noodle.

Its new landlord, Michael Malone, says the neighborhood "has an abundance of people who really care about what happens."

"A whole group of people, from the East Precinct Police Department to landowners, get together for lunch and talk about things," he said. "We deal with our own issues, whether it's homelessness, drug busts, whatever."

He knew Elliott Bay Book Co. was struggling and helped convince Aaron to move.

Aaron loves the neighborhood, from the new construction to improvements at Cal Anderson Park a half-block away. "It appears to me to be the most happening part of the Hill," he said.

He lives farther north on Capitol Hill and joked that the move "is not about me setting it up so I could walk to work every day."

At about 20,000 square feet, Elliott Bay's new location will be smaller than the current store but will have a greater selling area because the space will be used more efficiently, Aaron said.

"Yes, absolutely, it's going to meander," he said of the new store. And there will be creaky fir floors, just like in Pioneer Square.

The bookstore and a cafe — possibly the one that opened in Elliott Bay's basement last year — will occupy most of the building's ground floor, and a mezzanine for more books is being built in back, which is possible because of the 19-foot ceilings.

Elliott Bay will close for about two weeks when its 36 employees and professional movers pack and carry cedar bookshelves and 150,000 books up the hill from downtown, Aaron said.

Its new neighbors gleefully await its arrival.

"They'll be a huge draw," said Ruth True, owner of a 2-week-old boutique called Nube Green at the corner of 10th and Pine that sells local clothing and gifts.

"I don't know anybody who doesn't love Elliott Bay Books."

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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