Book industry veteran Phil Bevis, owner of Arundel Books, a new, used, and rare bookstore in Seattle, is looking for another bookstore to join him in turning Arundel’s Pioneer Square neighborhood into a book district.
Bevis’ 1,000-square-foot store is located in the heart of Seattle’s tourist district in a building that is home to another antiquarian bookstore, The Globe Bookstore, and a rare book bindery, Ars Obscura Bookbinding & Restoration Co.
In 1984, Bevis founded Arundel Books in Los Angeles as a fine press publishing company specializing in art and poetry; he eventually began selling rare and out-of-print books, followed by new books. Then, in 1995, Bevis opened a second Arundel Books location in Seattle; the L.A. store was ultimately shuttered after 25 years in business due, in part, to the difficulty of running stores in two different states.
Bevis began his career in Los Angeles, working on what was called “Booksellers Row,” which back then featured 22 bookstores within four blocks. Today, Bevis is actively seeking to create a similar environment for books and booksellers in Seattle. At this fall’s Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair, he plans to do some scouting for fellow booksellers who either do not own their building or are not locked into a long-term lease, in hopes of enticing them to relocate.
“The more the merrier, honestly,” said Bevis. “This is one of those rare businesses where there is more synergy than competition. It’s like the cluster effect with jewelry stores, where the more jewelers there are in an area, the better business is because people will go there thinking, ‘Well, I’m sure I’ll be able to find a good engagement ring or a good pair of earrings or a bracelet.’”
Likewise, said Bevis, the more bookstores in a given area, the more incentive there is for people who love books to come and browse. Arundel recently experienced a bump in business after Peter Miller Books, a specialty bookstore carrying books on architecture and design, moved in one block away. The area, which is also home to The Seattle Mystery Bookshop, is a great place for business owners who want to offer people an experience they won’t find at the mall, said Bevis.
“It’s an area where both the locals and visitors support unique locally owned indie businesses, and we’ve got a really healthy mix here. It’s a dense residential area and a dense office area; we’re also two to three blocks away from the stadiums,” said Bevis. “We have visitors coming for every reason under the sun, plus sports fans. It’s a really interesting place to be.”
Since a large part of Arundel’s daily sales are to customers from out of town, Arundel is constantly shipping books to addresses all over the country from the store’s warehouse of about 80,000 volumes, which is located across the street.
Within the store proper, used and rare prices go from $3 to five figures. The general inventory is comprised of 4,000 to 5,000 books on individual artists; anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 books of poetry at a given time; a solid stock of fiction; a selection of photography books and books on architecture; a children’s section; and a large math and physics section. In fact, said Bevis, the store does about 30 percent of retail sales in the hard sciences. The bookstore also includes a gallery space, which stays open late for the art walk during Seattle’s First Thursdays monthly shopping event.
Arundel Books’ upper floor is currently home to the publishing offices of Arundel Press, which prints limited-edition books on letterpress, and Chatwin Books, which publishes poetry, art books, and fiction in offset and digital formats. Bevis, who is the sole owner of Arundel Press and co-owns Chatwin with a partner, said he is on track to publish 12 books this year, including the collected poems of Rex Wilder, two volumes of the collected poetry of Jack Graves, and a new novel by Toby Olson, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for his 1982 book Seaview (New Directions).
According to Bevis, Arundel’s main customer service objective is for everyone, from the rare book collector to the layman reader, to be comfortable coming in to look for something to read. It’s all about not taking themselves too seriously, said Bevis.
“A lot of the time it can take a lot of courage for people to ask for a book, and it’s so easy not to be sensitive to that. You never know why someone is asking for something, so we try to be really informal in the way we talk about books,” said Bevis. “We treat people who are asking for a book with a spaceship on the cover the same way that we would respond to someone asking for Bulgakov or Murakami. Reading is the key.”
For more information about opportunities in Pioneer Square for bookstores, contact Bevis at (206) 624-4442 or via e-mail at [email protected].
What’s in a Name?: Arundel Books
According to Bevis, the name “Arundel Books” originates from the first bookstore he ever worked in. The L.A. store offered to pay for Bevis’ bookbinding class at UCLA’s library studies program. On the first day of class, Bevis was required to bring in a book in need of rebinding, he said.
“I wandered around the store, and there was only one book that didn’t have a spine. I pulled it off the shelf — it was a pretty thick book, almost 600 pages — and it sprung open to page 240, as if there was a spring there,” said Bevis. “At the top of the page, it said ‘Sir Bevis.’ The hair on the back of my neck stood up like it was some sort of prank, but I looked around and there wasn’t anyone else in the store at the time.”
The story, which he went on to read, was an early Middle English metrical romance, in the vein of King Arthur, based on the life of Sir Bevis, a real Saxon earl who was killed fighting the Norman army. In the tale, the character of Sir Bevis rides across the ocean on a magical steed named Arundel to his home in England, now the site of Arundel Castle. The character of Sir Bevis also shows up in the French classic poem “La Chanson de Roland,” while the real Bevis’ sword, rumored to be the second longest ever forged, is still preserved at Arundel Castle.
Of his choice of name, Bevis joked, “A horse that could ride across the ocean seemed like an appropriate vehicle for my ambitions at age 23.”