Interview with a Bookstore: Third Place Books
a true community gathering place
Third Place Books was founded by real estate developer Ron Sher in 1998. Sher was enamored by the concept of Third Places as outlined in sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place and was looking to create a true community gathering place. He felt that a bookstore would be the natural heart of such a project. The first Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, WA is a 15,000 square foot store with a mix of new and used books. Adjacent to the store is a large Commons area with seating and tables for hundreds of customers, a performance stage and three restaurants. In addition to having a robust author reading series, Third Place has a non-profit partner Friends of Third Place Commons that facilitates over 800 free events in the Commons space annually (live music on the weekends, gardening and craft shows, foreign language learning groups etc).
In 1999, Robert Sindelar, a former bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle, WA and Books and Books in Miami, FL joined Sher as the manager of the store and eventually became the Managing Partner of the Company. In 2002 Sindelar and Sher opened a second Third Place Books in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle. Keeping the idea that a “third place” reflects its neighborhood, the Ravenna store feels extremely different from the Lake Forest Park store in design and size. The Ravenna store has a full service Mediterranean restaurant as well as a beer and wine Pub.
In April 2016, Sher and Sindelar are scheduled to open their third Third Place Books in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle.
What's your favorite section of the store?
Erin Ball (Assistant Manager): Fiction and essays.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
Robert Sindelar (Managing Partner): A dedicated fully professional performance space. Like most stores, our events spaces serve so many different purposes and often limit the types of events we can do. I’d love to have a space that we could do anything from a small poetry reading to a local theater production.
Erin: A section dedicated to author/artist/various celebrity letters and journals.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
Erin: Organize and execute large events.
Who is your favorite regular:
Erin: Cherry the cat. A small, snorting cat on a leash that comes in from time to time.
Robert: There is a retired teacher from the University of Washington who comes in at least 5 times a week. He seems to read every book review that is published and always comes in looking for obscure non-fiction titles he has read about. As a buyer, I sometimes will bring in a copy of a book simply because I think this one customer will come looking for it. He often does. The best part is that when I head down to our Ravenna store, I see him there too
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
Erin: This isn’t really crazy, but funny. Robin Williams was here to film a movie, and my good friend ended up ringing him up for some books. My friend was so stunned and starstruck that all he could think to say was, “I loved you in Patch Adams.”
Robert: The day we had Paul McCartney at the store presented a number of moments that could fall under this topic. My favorite was when we had the store clear for him and thousands of customers outside waiting for the signing to begin. Sir Paul has arrived and, as scheduled, is reading his new children’s book to a group of 30 elementary school kids before his signing begins for the masses. It was a brief moment of calm before it was about to get crazy again. I look up and there is this guy in these ratty clothes and long hair strolling across the space. The entire space was supposed to be empty by now. I rush over to intercept this hooligan, and get within about 15 feet of him, when I realize he is following a young child, clearly his child, a child that had wandered away from the reading. A second later I realized that I had almost accosted Eddie Vedder.
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
Erin: It was libraries for me. In the summers, my brother and stepsister would be at the library every day. We’d check out dozens of books a week. We would find all sorts of animals, turtles and toads, and bring them in to identify them. One time it was a stray cat. The librarians were so patient and nice to us.
If you weren’t running or working at a bookstore, what would you be doing?
Erin: I’d probably be a lawyer.
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
Erin: That I couldn’t get away from it. I went to law school so I could have a “career” and I found I just couldn’t leave bookselling behind. Plus, lawyers are terrible.
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