When the music's over: Pulling an all-nighter at Twice Sold Tales

At bar-time, as the Broadway pubs empty out onto the street, Capitol Hill bookstore Twice Sold Tales is still open - it's open all night every Friday. And as things quiet down on Broadway, as the hoots and shouts fade, and the last straggling bar-goers teeter off together into side-streets and cabs, business at the bookshop is just picking up. Inside, old-time jazz plays over the speakers and the cats - there are six of them - slink about their business.

When I talked to Jaime Lutton, Seattle book guru and owner of Twice Sold Tales, she told me that the all-night Fridays have been going on quietly for 13 of the store's 14 years in business. I asked if she actually does much business late at night.

"Oh yeah," she said. "There's usually a rush when the bars let out; then another one around three o'clock and another about six, before people work."

When I enter the bookstore at 2 a.m., the 'after-bar rush' is on, and a dozen or so customers roam the shelves. Many are here straight from the bars - they tend to blink and waver a little when they come in to the bright, sobering light of the store.

"Things must get crazy in here," I say to the quiet, stolid Chris, who works the late-night Fridays.

"Not really." says Chris in his quiet, stolid way, "It's pretty quiet." Outside a man starts screaming into a cell-phone; he screams and screams. Then he comes in, asks directions, and leaves.

"You never have trouble?" I prod.

"Seattle is weird," he says, "but not dangerous."

Some of the customers have a long-standing tradition of getting tanked before stopping by. One prime example, a man feverishly racking the Literature section, justifies it this way:

"I'll wake up hung-over tomorrow and there'll be these new books lying there, waiting for me to read them. To be honest, most of what I read I bought here, between midnight and six in the morning, drunk."

I ask what he likes to read.

"Anything," he says instantly, "Everything. Fantasy, poetry, plays - they have a great play section here," he adds, waving his hand unsteadily backwards at the wall. "I wish I didn't come in drunk so much. . . I blow so much on books."

Indeed, on the stool next to his feet is a pile of books at least five thick.

Some people are here on dates: I ask two kids crouched together by the arts books if they're out on a date.

"Sure," they say, a little awkwardly. I ask what they're reading.

"Photography," says the guy. "She loves flower shots." The page they're open to, I notice, involves the flowers scattered over a two-page spread of a naked woman. They go back to the book, their bodies close.

By 3 a.m., the after-bar crowd has petered-out, and there is only one customer left in the store. It turns out his car broke down and he'd rather wait out the five o'clock bus than take a cab. "I'm a cheapskate," he admits.

Despite his saying this, a pile of books rests at his feet, and he is still searching the shelves. As the minutes go by, the pile grows. He wanders outside - not to leave, but to check the discount racks.

Part of the deal with the late-night Fridays is that between midnight and six, everything (that's right, everything) is 25% off. But this alone doesn't quite account for the pattern I begin to notice as the night goes on: the later it gets, the more books people buy. Starting around three, every single person who comes in buys something; most plop five, six, seven books on the counter.

At three o'clock the place was empty; by three-thirty things have suddenly picked up again, with five or six people browsing. Who are these people?

They're book people, explains Scott, who worked the all-night Fridays for a year before Chris, and now manages the Queen Anne location. "Some are bargain-hunters; some don't sleep; some are lonely; some come just to pet the cats."

I ask Scott if he's ever had trouble with customers. He tells me that, in a year, he only had to kick out three people. For what?

"Sleeping." He says. "That's the one rule - you can't fall asleep."

By four, I'm having a hard time not breaking the rule; even the cats are passed out. There's still a steady trickle of two or three customers, but I'm hesitant to approach them; at this hour the bookstore has a feeling of intense privacy - unlike earlier, no one is chatting.

I ask two tattooed gay guys bent over an art book how they wound up here so late.

"I'm really not prepared to tell that story," says one, without smiling.

The man with the broken car - the cheapskate - finally comes to the counter with his pile of books; it is enormous. He leaves holding the books in front of him with both hands.

At 4:30 a.m. Chris starts feeding the cats, who are suddenly, eerily awake. It's that strange time between night and early morning and I notice that some people wish Chris a good night as they leave, others a good morning. Chris finally drags out the vacuum and the loud, monotonous drone fills the store. When he's done, it's morning - just like that.

I buy my books (yes, I bought four books) and walk out onto the street. It's raining. A girl with an umbrella steps under the awning to wait for the five o'clock bus. A jogger goes by, pausing to check out the discount rack. A man in a suit comes around the corner and into the store. The bus pulls up in the rain, and the girl gets on. The sky is faint, light blue; the morning feels like something out of a book.

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