It was a year ago last August that Mercer Street Books proprietress Debbie Sarow passed away. If you've been in the store in that interim, you'll know that it is still a vibrant, working literary space. It is still the shop that Debbie created, imbued with many of her signature flourishes. But, it is also under new ownership, and the observant eye will notice some interesting shifts.
As of January 1st this year, Jessica Hurst is the new owner of the store. Debbie hired Jessica, and asked if she would take over.
"Debbie did ask me if I would buy the store, and her partner and I have been making sure that's the right thing for the shop, and me, and everyone involved over the past year. I think it was evident to both of us very early on that there was no point in second guessing Debbie's judgement.
"I cared about the store enormously and had been Debbie's employee for long enough that I could carry it on in the way that she had hoped to run it herself. I knew what was important to her, and what was important to her is important to me, so it worked out."
One new thing: you might meet Lincoln, Jessica's 12-year old corgi, who sometimes accompanies her to the store. Debbie — who was notoriously cautious of dogs — did meet, Lincoln, once. After seeing him respond to her hesitation and go lay down in the other room when told, Debbie commented "that's as charming as a dog can be and still be a dog."
Debbie had a unique reputation, and a specific vision on what the store should carry. "She had these ideas about the right mystery authors to buy, and the kind of classics that aren't as important to everyone anymore, but it was very important for her to have. In a world that ceaselessly questions the canon, she was intensely canonical and very well educated about the canon."
While Debbie's history was all in used and antiquarian books, Jessica started her bookselling career at Third Place Books, before working at Lamplight in the Pike Place Market. "What I see people buying is different than what she saw people buying. Her education in bookselling predated [her buying the bookstore] by quite a bit. I would not be caught dead saying that she was wrong, and she found what worked for her and the store. She did extremely well by the store, but there were things that she underestimated.
"I find the books for queer folk and social justice books are appreciated, and that wasn't something that was the store's main focus. I find that they sell well enough that the queer books that I brought in disappeared immediately. The section is always half-full, about which I feel some guilt.
"I hope new people will feel so comfortable in the shop that they will take some ownership of it and start bringing books in. It really is the big difference between new and used books. There's an investment: you bring books back. You say, well this is my local used bookstore and this is what I'd like to see in the shop. You bring those books in, send them on to somebody else in your community who maybe needs them."
So, how has the shop been doing in the past year-and-a-half?
"I think it's worth knowing that it was our 10 year anniversary last year, we're excited to acknowledge that extraordinary milestone and book selling in the shop is doing well.
"I would be really remiss in not expressing my extraordinary gratitude for lower Queen Anne and upper Queen Anne, and all of the regulars that come from rest of the city and all of the regulars that come from around the world. I've never felt so embraced by a group of people — so supported. It's watching how much love they all have for the bookstore, and how much love they had for Debbie, but also how much gratitude is there that the bookstore continues to operate. People who are deeply invested in the store bring books in all the time. It's completely extraordinary. I just have never seen anything like that, to be honest.
"I'm overjoyed to discover it, to discover a little piece of old Seattle nestled at the foot of the Space Needle."