Walls of Books fills the bookstore-shaped void in the hearts of Issaquah readers

Neighborhood Read

In the 1990s, many booksellers saw chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders as evil empires—giant, intrusive companies that forced local independent bookstores out of business with their wide selection and deep discounts. But then the convenience and affordability of online retail overtook the big box booksellers, and Borders Books & Music closed all of their stores in 2011. Now that the Barnes & Noble location is the only bookstore in many U.S. cities, swathes of the country—especially poorer and nonwhite areas—are becoming book deserts as more B&N locations close. More and more American towns and cities have zero brick-and-mortar bookstores within a reasonable driving distance.

For example, when Barnes & Noble at 626 106th Ave. NE moves operations to Crossroads Bellevue this fall, there will be zero bookstores in downtown Bellevue. When the local Barnes & Noble bookstore closed at the start of the pandemic, nearby Issaquah became a book shortage. But two months ago, a pair of relieved Seattle Times readers emailed us to remind us that when the new outpost of Walls of Books, a national bookstore chain, opened in the open-air mall at 1025 Gilman Avenue NW, Issa The literary drought of boasting has officially ended.

Issaquah’s book wall is exactly what it says it is: a storefront filled with tall, gleaming white shelves crammed with books. At the front of the store, you’ll find best-sellers and hardcover new items as well as puzzles, board games, and side jobs like coffee mugs and socks. But most stores stock cheap used paperbacks in a variety of genres and topics.

This is a great bookstore, especially for hardcore readers – those with a book habit of over a week. “We do have regular clients,” said Gail Vaughn, owner of Issaquah Walls of Books. “Some of them would get a book or two a week, and then they would bring them back next week to trade. And then some of them might come once a month and bring a whole bag.”

Browse long enough and you might see one of those deals – a customer carrying a paper bag full of just-read mystery novels, romance novels or sci-fi series in a hurry to exchange them for a new book belt come home. The store offers up to 50% off the price of used books in stock. “So if a customer were to buy a $4 used book, they would always pay $2 out of pocket for the book, and then their store credit would pay the other half,” Vaughan explained, adding that customers use Walls of Books Return books with the price tag on them to “automatically receive credit for half the purchase price”.

“We love these deals because they put books on our shelves and customers feel like they’re getting a high-quality deal for what they’re paying for,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn has lived in Issaquah since 2019, and the Issaquah Bookstore is her second bookstore in the area. She was a high school teacher in Georgia, but when her family moved to the Pacific Northwest, she wanted a change. “I didn’t have any history of selling books before I opened a bookstore in Covington,” she said, “but I’ve always loved bookstores, so I thought that since we were moving to a whole new state, it would be a great time to try something different.”

Vaughn, whose family frequently shopped at the original Walls of Books chain in Georgia, thought opening a franchise would be a good opportunity to enter the world of book sales. Issaquah and Covington are the only bookwall outposts west of the Rockies—the chain is largely concentrated in the South, with one store each in Kansas, Iowa and Ohio.

The Covington location has kept Vaughan busy for two and a half years, and its success has inspired her to look out for spaces that could open a store closer to home. “Our children go to school in Issaquah and we are members of this community,” she said. “We shopped at Barnes & Noble before it closed, and we’re really excited to open a bookstore here.”

Currently, Vaughan is training new employees to help run the two stores, and she’s learning what books her neighbors like. She says Issaquah’s readers are more interested in politics and sports books than her Covington clients. While she’s currently reading all of Agatha Christie’s mysteries — “I think I’ve gotten to about 30 books,” she estimates — Vaughan says clients keep recommending new books to her, and it’s easy to get distracted. As a bookseller, “you talk to people about a lot of things you never thought you would talk about. It’s really exciting to see other people excited about books, and their excitement is contagious.”

As a former teacher, Vaughan said, “It doesn’t make me happier to see the kids come in and get excited about reading.” Vaughn looks forward to regular children’s storytimes at both locations, and she’s already partnered with Yi Squaw worked with Covington’s school librarians to order books for the school and “provide books and gift certificates to students who reach their reading goals.” “

When asked what she would like readers of the Seattle Times to know about her book wall location, Vaughan touted the neighbor’s art of selling books. “People in Seattle might not drive to Issaquah to get to our bookstore. But they have a bookstore in the community,” she said. “So I would tell them to support their local bookstore. You’re going to miss them when they’re gone.”

What are Walls of Books customers reading?

“Probably our most popular book right now is Where the Crayfish Sing,” Vaughan said. Delia Owens’ coming-of-age novel “has been one of our most popular books since it opened in Covington two and a half years ago, but a recent film adaptation kicks off a resurgence in sales.” .”

Vaughan said customers are requesting the Taylor Jenkins Reid novel “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” every day. The novel explores the fascinating and harrowing life of a bisexual Hollywood actress in the form of her final interview as she turns 80.

Vaughan said young readers are basking in the graphic novel craze. “The ‘Nanny Club’ graphic novel series and ‘Dog Man’ have been very popular,” the streaming success of Jenny Han’s youth novel “Summer I Got Pretty” sparked an explosion in summer sales for the book.

“Another author we sell a lot is Colleen Hoover – not any particular book. People just want any book”, the young romance novelist’s avid TikTok fan became famous with the help of .

book wall

Sunday-Saturday 10am-6pm; 1025 NW Gilman Blvd., Suite E-3, Issaquah; 425-677-7498; wallofbooks.net

Sunday-Saturday 10am-6pm; 27339 Covington Way SE, Suite C-2, Covington; 253-631-3976; wallofbooks.net

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