The changing face

Last week, Title Wave Books closed its doors after nearly 20 years of business.

The closing of a bookstore always matters to me, because I love reading, writing and almost all the other endeavors associated with books.

But the closing of Title Wave mattered even more to me because I worked there.

This was my second stint behind the counter at 7 Mercer. I clerked at Title Wave in 1995 and 1996, after returning from four years of news-papering in Sun Valley, Idaho. In the mid-'90s I also worked nights at Tower Books, across the street.

I came back to Title Wave in 2002, a few months after five more years of newspapering, in Hawaii. Tower wasn't an option; it had closed while I was in the South Pacific.

My sorrow about Title Wave's demise is not financial. Title Wave was my second job, and clerking at a used-book store is not something I'd do solely for the near-minimum wage (though I always cashed the checks).

What I'll miss, in addition to first crack at a lot of great books, is you guys: the locals who came in and talked about everything from your marriages, the trillion-dollar-debt man in the White House, your kids, your plans, great and not-so-great books and writers, and even this column.

Some people think all retail sales jobs are the same. But those of us who have tilled in the "service industry" field know that just isn't the case.

I've tended bar more than once, and comparing my regular customers from those two distinctly different endeavors explains pretty clearly why I'll miss clerking at Title Wave - as an old writer friend who has tended bar for more than 20 years reminded me after hanging around Title Wave one Saturday not long ago.

"Most of my customers start out OK," he said, "but a lot of them can't really hold their liquor, and liquor is what I sell them."

By and large, bookstore customers are different. They are looking for something to read. They are thinking about something more than simply feeding themselves with some sort of product, be it food, drink, clothing, furniture or whatever. They are looking to feed their minds, and a fed mind is a healthy mind, usually belonging to someone who can carry on a good conversation.

I helped start Title Wave's end-of-the-month Sunday poetry series back in 1994, along with owner Nickie Jostel and Greg Burkman. We had a lot of fun, but we also brought a lot of Seattle's better writers into the neighborhood to share their work.

The reading series, run by writer Doug Nufer after Greg and I split for allegedly greener pastures years ago, folded a few months before the store.

Personally, I feel an urban neigh-borhood without a bookstore isn't really a neighborhood.

But Lower Queen Anne, where I've lived the last three times I moved back to Seattle from points east and west, has changed a lot in 15 years.

A developer type, bemoaning the store's closure, claimed the powers-that-be have plans for Lower Queen Anne that benefit businesses, not residents. He said the neighborhood would eventually become almost all bars, clubs and restaurants. What he called an entertainment district.

This is ironic, since headline readers of our two dailies know by now that many of the newer residents of Fremont - another formerly great and unique Seattle neighborhood that's changed drasti-cally in the past decade or so - are now complaining about "all the drunks" on their streets, especially on weekends. This is because the rents in Fremont were driven up high enough to predominantly preclude the small businesses Title Wave exemplified - businesses that served the people who actually live in the neighborhood.

Lower Queen Anne is a bit behind Fremont in its disfiguring transition from a diverse neighborhood to an entertainment district, more and more occupied at night by folks who often don't live nearby and, even worse, don't share the core values of the neighborhood (read last week's Police Blotter for yet another scary, gun-related item from the alleged entertain-ment venue across from Key Arena where hip-hop and violence are now featured on weekends).

But our day is coming. In just the past year, within a two-block radius, we've lost Sorry Charlie's, a florist and Title Wave. Starbucks bought Seattle's Best, assured the employees of my favorite coffeeshop in the city - right across from Easy Street - that nothing would change, and then closed the place. Too close to a Starbucks three blocks away? We the people who live in the neighborhood will never know.

The fella who bought Title Wave's inventory said he was moving the books, and adding some of his own, and opening his new store in his neighborhood, Columbia City. He told me he could get a lot more retail space for less money in Columbia City.

Now you can claim such changes are the natural result of capitalism. But even a cursory reading of Adam Smith wouldn't recognize the cannibalistic, corporate approach we currently labor under as pure capitalism. Under the cosmetics, he'd call it a monopolistic system, maybe?

But semantics be damned.

I'm sad because the neighborhood I've always returned to because I loved the place is starting to look more and more like damn near every other place in the city.

Seattle was the rarest of American cities when I first landed here 20 years ago.

Liberal but not showy about it.

Tolerant but not strident about it.

Home to a lot of artists who made art without publicity.

People would always stop their cars if they saw you in a crosswalk.

There was a lot of money around, but the people who possessed didn't seem so compelled to show it off as they are nowadays. (A guy in a local coffeeshop was screaming into his cellphone last week to some other clown that he had "$200,000 laying around I want to get working." As if those of us getting our motors started cared one whit.)

And every neighborhood, including Lower Queen Anne, had five or six places where you could get a nice, cheap eggs-and-bacon breakfast.

There's still the Mecca for that.

One place.

And God help you if you want to buy a book to read while you mop up your cholesterol in one of the Mecca's retro booths or along the old-fashioned diner counter.

It ain't gonna happen.

Not in today's Lower Queen Anne, it ain't.

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