by Kat Richardson
We have profiled many wonderful mystery bookstores here in KRL and look forward to doing many more. We are thrilled to have fantasy author Kat Richardson profiling the Seattle Mystery Bookshop for us!I found the Seattle Mystery Bookshop by accident the first time, on a steep street, just off Seattle’s famous Pioneer Park. It’s a little place, tucked behind a brick arch and an iron railing. The sidewalk of Cherry Street slopes past at head height and an acute angle. It seems as if there ought to be something mysterious going on in such a place, hiding in plain sight, like a purloined letter, yet tucked away in a corner where any sort of fascinating and curious things might drift in and come to rest. It is the Seattle area’s only book store specializing in mystery and detective fiction; it is as intriguing and quirky as some of the volumes on its shelves.
SMB was founded in 1990 by the late Bill Farley, who had become a mystery buff at an early age, reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew before moving on to “the hard stuff” and eventually becoming an ardent and well-respected collector of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books and related material. So, naturally, Bill became a bookseller. While working at Whodunit? mystery book store in Philadelphia, Bill met author Aaron Elkins, who had come by to sign books. Being a Seattleite, Elkins decried the city’s lack of a mystery book store.
Bill and his wife B Jo Bauer had recently visited the city and noticed the problem, too. Since they were planning to move anyhow, Bill and B Jo determined to rectify the situation, and on July 1, 1990, Seattle Mystery Bookshop opened its doors to the public and has remained a part of the historic Pioneer Square district – and the city’s literary scene –ever since.
Although the store has collectible and rare mysteries, it has always been a shop primarily for mystery readers, with new books nestling beside older editions covering the entire spectrum of the mystery genre, from the most genteel to the hardest-boiled, true crime and non-fiction to mystery-based urban fantasy and science fiction crime. In spite of its compact space, the shop packs in a lot of books and even a comfy chair or two, as well as a locked case for rare and collectible editions. The shop is even rumored to have a resident ghost – what could be more perfect for a mystery book store? Supposedly the spirit of a barber who once plied his trade in the same space when the historic building was younger, some members of the staff think their low-key spook even packed in with them when the book store moved down the hall in 2005, and returned to their old “haunt” again in 2014.
Of course moving down the hall and back isn’t the only thing that’s changed over time for SMB. Bill retired in 1989 and sold the store to J.B. Dickey, the shop’s first employee and long-time manager, who still runs the store today along with a collection of mystery-loving assistants. Although retired, Bill continued to work in the shop until just before he passed away on June 28, 2015, just three days short of the shop’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Although he has gone, Bill’s love of mysteries lingers within the shop and SMB continues to offer one of the finest collections of mystery fiction and non-fiction on the West Coast.
Seattle has always been a book-loving town and ranks high among the list of “most literate cities in America,” but even Seattle bookstores have had to make changes to keep the doors open. The staff at SMB are always happy to recommend books and help readers find just the right one, they’ve expanded their selection of mysteries for kids and young adults, and added the ability to order any print book or e-book the customer desires – mystery or not – as well as shipping all over the US and Canada. Seattle Mystery Bookshop has always been known for hosting book signings and other events featuring mystery authors from the very first day. J.A. Jance dropped in to sign books on the day before the store officially opened and the authors, fans and stories keep on coming while the signed book list keeps on growing. If you love mysteries, or just books and bookstores, you shouldn’t miss this cozy little gem in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square.
If you’re thinking of shopping in person, or on online, visit the bookshop’s website at www.seattlemystery.com for lists of signed books, upcoming events, and author information.
Contact information for the Seattle Mystery Bookshop:
117 Cherry Street, Seattle WA 98104
(206) 587 – 5737
Hours: 10 – 6 Monday – Saturday, 12 – 5 Sunday
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways, short stories & more mystery bookstore profiles, in our mystery section.