To open a bookstore, you have to leave room to grow

Eric McDaniel has never before been responsible for managing an entire bookstore. Before he took the lead position at the new Third Place Books Seward Park, he worked as one of a handful of managers at Third Place’s Lake Forest Park store, and he spent two years at Half Price Books on Capitol Hill. All told, he’s worked in bookstores for a dozen years.

And he’s been involved with Seward Park since the very beginning. “I helped with the design and the layout” of the shop, McDaniel tells me, “and [Third Place Books Managing Partner] Robert [Sindelar] and I went through the blueprints together” since before the store was public knowledge. Other Seward Park staffers, particularly used book buyer Wesley Minter, provided input on the store’s layout, too.

McDaniel has lived in the neighborhood “for about seven years now. I consider this my community,” he says. What does he like about the area? “I love the amount of cultural diversity we’ve got down here,” he says. And he likes the fact that “people still say hello on the sidewalks in Seward Park and Columbia City. It still feels like a very tight-knit community, and people are still very engaged” both with the community and with each other.

One aspect that McDaniel says the store is taking its time on is the event programming. For the summer, he says, “we need to play with the music levels and listen to what a noisy dinnertime [at the attached Raconteur restaurant] is like.” But they’ll definitely be hosting events once they get the noise issues figured out: “we designed it to seat a hundred people,” he says, and he’s eager to get a reading series started. With the city divided by traffic as it is, he can see a time when big-name visiting authors headline three separate Seattle events on three consecutive evenings: one at Third Place Lake Forest Park, one in Seattle proper at Elliott Bay Book Company or Town Hall, and one at Seward Park.

The store is already planning to host book clubs, hosted both by staff and by Seattle author Garth Stein, who lives in the neighborhood. “We’ve already had so many people reaching out with things they’d like to host here,” McDaniels says, and he finds the different types of suggested programming and the high level of interest to be heartening.

Third Place Books Seward Park has a staff of eight full-time booksellers and two part-timers. McDaniel wasn’t just looking for veteran booksellers, though he has four of those, too. Of the novice booksellers, he says, “three of them have done library work, and one of them worked in magazines at Bulldog News.” Two of the staff are former college professors. Experience was less important to McDaniel’s hiring decisions than ensuring the staff had a wide range of tastes and interests. A history of bookselling isn’t always the best indicator of success for new hires, McDaniel says. “I was kind of looking for personalities, and for people who could work with each other.”

A seasoned bookseller might notice that the bookshelves at Third Place Books Seward Park are light in stock. “We left things a little bit loose on the shelves because we anticipated new books,” McDaniel explains. Partly, they did so because they were counting on “getting used books from the community,” and he says “we intentionally bought a little bit light knowing people were going to come in the door and request very specific things.” By making sure there was room to grow, McDaniel says, the Seward Park store was leaving room to reflect the flavor and tastes of its community.