On June 1, Seattle’s definitive independent bookstore changed hands, purchased by general manager of 32 years Tracy Taylor and partners (in business and in life) Joey Burgess and Murf Hall of Queer/Bar.
A change in ownership can be viewed with suspicion when an institution is so beloved. Fortunately for the store’s many devoted patrons, Taylor, Burgess, and Hall don’t plan on changing much—yes, those half-filled punch cards will still be accepted—and are committed to carrying on Elliott Bay’s legacy.
Opened in 1973 by Walter and Maggie Carr, the small family business quickly blossomed into a literary mecca, hosting notable writers and thinkers from across the country. The trio of new owners recently had tea with the Carrs, who reminisced with uncanny accuracy about the bookstore’s storied past. They could even remember what Jimmy Carter ate when he visited decades ago (cold poached salmon and wild rice, in case you’re wondering).
Taylor, Burgess, and Hall succeed Peter Aaron, who first joined Elliott Bay in 1999 when the Carrs sold the store to Ron Sher of Third Place Books. At first an employee, Aaron became a minority owner in 2001 and later the sole owner in 2009. He oversaw the store’s move from its flagship location in Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill in 2010 and will be staying on as an advisor through June to ease the transition.
This isn’t the trio’s first joint venture. In 2021, they opened Big Little News together, a hybrid bodega and magazine periodical seller on Pike and 11th. Burgess and Hall are fiercely protective of what they still see as their neighborhood. It’s “very much our downtown...a main street that felt like home to us,” even amid the tectonic shifts Capitol Hill has witnessed over the past two decades.
The couple owns a handful of other small businesses in the neighborhood, including the Cuff Complex. Their investment in this community is intentional. “I believe queer spaces, and the bookstore, and bodegas and cupcakes and activations in the street make the neighborhood exactly what it is, which is a queer art center,” says Burgess.
In the age of Amazon—with headquarters less than two miles away—physical spaces for print media to flourish, like Big Little News and Elliott Bay, are a precious, dwindling resource.
Taylor noted that the pandemic “brought people hyperlocal,” and made them appreciate their surroundings. Residents “realized that they want these stores and shops in their neighborhoods and started supporting them” more than ever before.
For many, Taylor explains, buying a book can be a deeply personal, and sometimes vulnerable, experience. She views Elliott Bay as a priceless public institution where people can feel safe and empowered in their exploration—of the world and their own identities.
Editor's note: In the original version of this article, we mistakenly reported that Peter Aaron was the owner of Elliott Bay Book Company directly after Walter and Maggie Carr. He assumed ownership after Ron Sher. We deeply regret the error.