Longtime Reader

University Bookstore Turns the Page on Its 120th Year

Tired of trekking downtown to get their textbooks, two students opened a campus bookstore in 1900, and it’s still going strong today.

By Nicole Pasia January 10, 2020

Duke Ellington fans flock to the bookstore when he visited in 1941.

Exploring the stretch of shops and eateries on University Avenue is essential to the Husky experience. But nothing bleeds the spirit of academic pride more than University Bookstore, which celebrates its 120th birthday today.

From its early years operating out of a coat shop next to the University of Washington President’s office on campus, the store has witnessed its fair share of history. It even survived the near-bankruptcy of its managing group, the Associated Students of the University of Washington, in 1932.

These days, you can find UW students browsing the store’s basement level for course materials, or its sea of purple and gold apparel. The store hosts hundreds of lectures and book signings each year, and the resulting guestbook features famous names like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Isabel Allende, as well as local authors and UW faculty.  An integral part of Bookstore’s purpose, says CEO Louise Little, is its role as a hub in a rapidly changing community.

“Anything we sell here, people can get online,” Little says. “What’s another reason to bring them in? Building that community and giving people that sense of place.” Little has worked at the store for decades, starting as a temporary cashier when she was a UW student in 1980.

While the store hasn’t moved since 1924, the rest of the University District has proved less static. Constant upzoning transforms the surrounding historic homes into towering apartment buildings, and the new light rail station opening nearby in 2021 is sure to cause an influx.

However, Little remains optimistic about what these changes will bring. The company is currently performing a deep analysis of its retail practices and customer relations, with goals to continue serving students for another 120 years.

“We're trying to evolve…the way the students are going to need it,” Little says.

The store’s yearlong celebrations kick off with a gift card drawing. Check it out here.

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