Thursday, September 29 2022

One hundred and twenty years ago this month, on the nascent University of Washington campus, a group of students realized they needed a bookstore of their own. “We have depended on the rather uncertain and inefficient service of the city’s bookstores for quite a long time,” blasted an editorial in the student newspaper. After a vote from the student assembly, the store opened in a small windowless room in Denny Hall on January 10, 1900. On that first day, it contained no textbooks; due to a lack of working capital, only items that could be purchased on credit were offered.

The College Bookstore has come a long way since those bare shelf days at Denny Hall – that was, at the time, an almost brand new building. After a few decades on campus, the store moved in 1925 to 4326 University Way NE, the former home of a posh billiard hall. And it remains there to this day, albeit greatly expanded from its original small storefront: Seattle’s oldest independent bookstore in about half a century, still serving UW students and the district community. university with UW-themed books, art supplies, materials and gifts. As Avenue stores come and go over the years, U Book Store has been a constant.


The third largest university bookstore in the country, U Book Store now has five branches and approximately 163 employees. And it has a rare distinction among college bookstores nationwide, said the store’s current general manager, Louise Little. (Little has her own history with the store: she worked there for 40 years, starting as a temporary cashier.) UBS is one of the very few American college bookstores that have students on their boards. Initially opened and operated by students, the store was incorporated for profit in 1932 and in trust in 1964 with students, faculty and staff of UW being the beneficiaries of this trust. Its board of directors consists of five students, four faculty members and one staff member, who govern the store’s long-term strategy.

In this 1939 photo, you can see the new 1930s facade of the University Bookstore, just behind the tram.  (Courtesy of the University Bookstore)


U Book Store is planning a few events later in the year to celebrate the anniversary. For now, with the help of Little and two history books – “University Book Store: A Centennial Pictorial” by Paul Dorpat and “Ninety Years at the University Book Store 1900-1990” by Carol Thomas – here is a plethora of interesting facts about the store that has served generations of UW students – and many other Seattleers – over the decades.

The local book is good

U Book Store’s all-time bestseller is, unsurprisingly, a book with a close connection to college: Daniel James Brown’s non-fiction book, “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics ”, about the UW crew that represented the United States at the Olympics behind Hitler’s shadow. The store has sold around 75,000 copies since the book’s publication in 2013.

Wait, what is a carriage return?

Selling typewriters has been a big part of U Book Store’s business for decades; for a while, a neon sign trumpeted the Royal Portable Typewriter brand above the store entrance. From the 1920s to the 1940s, the store offered popular typing lessons to students. A photo from this time shows a window full of typewriters, with a sign offering “terms as low as $ 1 a week.”

Students listen to music on 78 rpm records in the University Bookstore Music Store in 1940. (Courtesy University Bookstore)


Vintage gifts

In its early days, the store provided free blotters and paper clips for its customers, as well as free ink for pens and (in the early 1930s) the use of a practice green. Until 1954 he maintained a lending library.

A face-to-face in bookstores

The U Book Store has long been the only bookstore on the avenue selling new books, but not always. Hartman’s General Bookstore was across the street from 1958 to 1969, and the Washington Bookstore, which opened in 1937, was just a few doors down at 4316 University Way NE. – the Washington Book Store finally closed in 1979. (U Book Store quickly expanded into its old space.)

Northwestern author Betty MacDonald signed copies of her memoir


Line up for textbooks

For decades, customers visiting the textbook department requested books from clerks behind a counter, who fetched the required volumes from an area reserved for employees. But with some 13,000 students at UW in the early 1950s, at the start of each term, students lined up from the counter at the bottom of two flights of stairs, through the main floor, onto the sidewalk and on the street. This was clearly untenable, and in 1953 the U Book Store became the first college department store to convert to self-service in textbooks.

Renowned visitors

In 2014, a long queue formed to see former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promoting the “Hard Choices” memoir at the University Bookstore.  (MARCUS YAM / The Seattle Times)


If you were lucky enough to drop by the U Book Store on the open house in 1941, you received a giveaway: a concert by Duke Ellington, who played a large baby perched on a makeshift platform under the gaze a crowd of enthusiastic and standing students. Countless other distinguished guests have visited the store over the years, among them: Jimmy Carter, Alex Haley, Sophia Loren, the whole Clinton clan (Bill, Hillary and Chelsea), Shirley Temple Black, Peter O ‘Toole, JK Rowling, Maurice Sendak, Julie Andrews and many more.

Multiplication (and subtraction)

The main branch of U Book Store has given birth, one might say, to a younger generation of stores, including two on the main campus. The Husky Union Building branch opened in the basement in 1952 (it moved to its larger space upstairs in 1982) and a branch in the Health Sciences Building on the South Campus was opened in 1968. Bookstores were opened on the Tacoma and Bothell campuses in the UW in 1989. All of these locations, as well as a central Husky store in downtown Seattle, are still in operation, with the exception of the South Campus branch, which closed in 2016. The former Bellevue store ( opened in 1987) is no longer on the list. , closed in 2017) and the Mill Creek branch (which closed in 2019 after 15 years).

And after?

Little said discussions have already started for “the store of the future”. With the arrival of the streetcar, the store is preparing for increased foot traffic and begins discussions about the fate of the store’s parking lot. (She hinted at the possibility of building a new store there.) “As retail evolves, we are working hard to understand what this means for University Book Store,” she said, noting that the store launched a strong e-commerce site a year and a half ago.

In the short term, changes are underway: Recent visitors to the store will have noticed that the upper level of the General Books Department is now empty (although it is used for author events), and Little said that this was part of a client analysis review process. and consolidation of the store’s trade book inventory. Supplies, e-commerce, and course materials will be moved to this area (many textbooks are now in digital format, meaning the store needs less space for this department) and the basement will eventually be redeveloped into an event space. Currently, larger events are being held in the University Temple United Methodist Church across the street, but this structure is doomed to demolition in December.

District U continues to change, as does the University Bookstore. May he live long.

The university bookstore is an anchor on


This story has been updated to reflect the closure of the South Campus branch in 2016.

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