PhinneyWood is full of wonderful people and
great places that we all wish we knew more about. Resident Kevin Kozel
periodically digs deeper to let us know more in a column we like to call … Hi
When PhinneyWood’s neighborhood bookstore,
Santoro’s, chose not to renew their lease after nine years, the opportunity
presented itself for one if its long-time residents. Author and avid reader Tom
Nissley never planned on owning a bookstore, but after a little research the
timing seemed right. Five years later, Phinney Books now fills the need for
local readers and continues to expand its reach beyond the PhinneyWood
Kevin Kozel (KK): What made you decide to open
a book store in PhinneyWood?
Tom Nissley (TM): It’s the only place I could
imagine having one. I got an email from a friend who’s a real estate agent in
the neighborhood that Santoro’s was for sale. My first reaction was, “That’s a
crazy business, I don’t want to own a book store.” But I decided to look into
it because it was the right time in my life. The more I looked into it, the
more feasible it sounded.
KK: Book stores haven’t had the most positive
outlook over the past 10-15 years, but that’s not the case for Phinney Books,
TM: Things did look pretty rough for
bookstores 10-15 years ago, but the last five years we’ve seen things swing
back our way a bit. I think people just really like books and book stores. I
worked at Amazon when the Kindle came out and a lot of folks really thought
that there would be no physical books in five to ten years. But there’s
something about a book that’s different… it’s a different machine.
KK: How does Phinney Books differentiate
itself from an Amazon?
TM: There’s kind of an irony that Seattle
might be the best book store town in the country and it’s also the home of
Amazon. We’ve adjusted to Amazon and eBooks. The people who come in here are
already educated consumers and they know they want to support a book store and
they’re willing to pay a little more for the convenience or to have a store in
their neighborhood. We’ve seen it all over Seattle and I think we’re starting
to see it more across the country too.
KK: And the big chains have struggled while
the independent book stores have found some success…
TM: Yeah. Borders closed and everyone knows that
Barnes and Noble is having a hard time. I don’t think they offer much that
Amazon doesn’t. Shoppers want a place where people will know them and that
isn’t overwhelming. I think people like a place like this, small where someone
has chosen what is here.
KK: Sure, you offer specialized knowledge that
you don’t get in the stores that are just trying to carry everything.
TM: And those large stores had book sellers
that really knew their stuff too, and they eventually moved away from that
KK: What has surprised you about owning a book
TM: I’ve been able to sell books that I find
interesting, more than I thought I would. The selection has gotten more
idiosyncratic over time because I’ve become more confident that I can actually
KK: Do you think people’s reading habits have
changed because of internet access, cell phones, and other technology?
TM: Yes, I think one reason people come to
books is to get a break from screens. You can relax without things jumping out
at you or alerts.
KK: You also send out a weekly email
newsletter. How many people do you send it to?
MM: Close to 2,000 and half of them actually
open it, which I think is pretty good. The newsletter is very similar to what I
did at Amazon, so it was the one thing I knew I could do. I’d never operated a
cash register before, but I knew I could write about books for people.
KK: Tell me about your great window displays,
you always have some sort of theme. What was the inspiration behind that?
TM: That’s the thing I hear about the store
the most. A lot of it is one of our employees, Kim Kopetz. She loves it. When
we opened I wasn’t really as imaginative about it. Now it’s a way for us to
talk to you through books. It’s not all about the “new stuff.”
KK: You recently opened a second store in
Madison Park. What led you to that location?
TM: It’s a very similar neighborhood in some
ways. I don’t think I would ever consider opening a store in a place that
didn’t have that kind of pedestrian center to it. Like PhinneyWood, it’s the
kind of neighborhood where people can walk down the street and get pretty much
anything they need.
KK: What role has the PNA played in our
TM: I think the presence of the PNA helps make
us think of ourselves as a neighborhood in a way that others don’t. No other
neighborhood really has that strong
community association that does so many things.
KK: We can’t end this interview without
mentioning one of your other claims to fame, your time on “Jeopardy.” How many
times were you on?
TM: I won 8 times and I’ve been back for a
couple of tournaments. I think 14 times.
KK: Do you still watch regularly?
TM: I record it every night. Now that I’m
pretty sure they’re never going to ask me back I’ve been happy to not watch
every night. I can relax a little.
KK: You and fellow PhinneyWood “Jeopardy”
champion Ken Jennings are doing Trivia Night again this year, right?
TM: Yeah, this is the fourth or fifth year
we’ve done it. It gets bigger every year. It’s tough to win, but it’s fun!
Phinney Books can be found at 7405 Greenwood
Avenue and Madison Books at 4118 East Madison Street. Stop in for all of your
reading needs or check out their window displays at the very least.
Also, be sure to sign up for “Jeopardy”
Winners Trivia Night on Saturday, June 22, at the PNA.
Any person, place, or thing you want to know
more about in our neighborhood? Feel free to drop us a line or leave a comment
and we’ll look into making it a future feature on Hi Neighbor!