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Comeback Couth Buzzard celebrates 1-year anniversary

When the Couth Buzzard book store closed in September of 2008 after 20 years as a Phinney Ridge fixture, no one could have foreseen its comeback the following year. Couth Buzzard Books Espresso Buono Café re-opened at 8310 Greenwood Ave. N. just before Christmas last year, and last Saturday, it celebrated its one-year anniversary.

“We survived and thrived in a bad economy with a used book store and a café,” co-owner Theo Dzielak, 59, said from the back of the store on Saturday. As blue grass duo Pickled Okra performed “pickled” Christmas songs in the front, he added, “It’s our first-year anniversary, and we’re celebrating.”

“Our music — well, we throw songs into the pickle jar for a while, and they come out a little different,” performer Todd Gray said in between sets with wife and band mate Paisley Gray. With a laugh, the Greenwood couple added, “It’s an acquired taste.”

Performances from children’s music to blue grass went all day during the anniversary celebration. For the evening, Spanish wine tasting and a free concert were scheduled with performers Stew Hendrickson, Pint and Dale and headliner Jim Page.

Dzielak, a former store manager at the original Couth Buzzard, re-opened with original owner Gerry Lovchik, 73, and café owner Penny Wight, 59, on Dec. 15, 2009.

“We wanted to re-open, but not without a café person,” he said in reference to a conversation he had with Lovchik when the two were looking for a new location. “This was a no-go unless we could find a coffee person.”

He gestured to Wight and then explained her expertise as one of the main components to the store’s recent success.

“We couldn’t have made it as just a used book store,” he admitted. Wight, already a coffee shop owner in Lynnwood, had the “perfect” background to help the new store survive.

“Between the three of us, we have decades and decades of experience,” Wight said as she typed on her laptop next to Dzielak. “We were able to survive by becoming part of the community.”

She said the new store has “added events where people can show off their talents in a comfortable way — the kind of place where everyone is welcome.”

Aside from the café, which serves local beer and wine, the new store is still centered on using trade as a way to build value in their product and help customers feel a sense of ownership.

Dzielak said customers bring in used books for trade, are assigned store credit, and then use it towards the purchase of other books in the future. Customers can only use store credit to pay for 50 percent of the price of each item; the rest is out of pocket.

Customer records are kept in an old notebook — in a “trade log like the old days,” Dzielak said. “We’re kind of like a recycling center that way,” he added. “This system was started in the late 1960s and early 70’s in San Francisco.”

“But we’re a cleaned-up and amped-up version of the old one,” Wight explained. “I think it’s a stroke of genius.”

Long-time customer Rich Levinski, 42, said, “They give you more value than other local book stores, and a better deal in the long run.”

“And our baristas are so kind and considerate,” Wight said as she got up to relocate moveable book shelves to make room for the evening concert. “They make homemade baked goods and soups — the whole nine yards.”

“Our café is just fun, and we have the freedom to experiment and make things,” barista and cook Jason Studstill, 26, said as he took a tray of brownies out of the oven. “We are surrounded by eccentric artists, and that carries over into our work.”

“The reason this place is becoming a draw is because it has a nostalgic twinge,” artist Brian Prosser said as he sketched the ongoing blue grass performance. “People come in here every day and are excited that their old book store is back.”

“Opening up a business is almost like having a child all over again,” Dzielak said. “All these crises and decisions come up every day, and you’re counting the days until it goes off to kindergarten and you can finally take a breather.”

“Now that we have a system going,” Wight said, “we won’t have to work 80 hours a week to keep it going.”

Tyler Steele is PhinneyWood’s intern. He is a journalism student at the University of Washington.

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