It’s been more than a year since I visited Third Place Books in person. Over the past few months, I’ve ordered online and had books mailed to me. But after attending a webinar yesterday with Lisa Cron about her new book, Story or Die, I ordered a copy. Instead of opting to have it snail mailed, I clicked on ‘pick up at store.'
For the occasion of venturing to the bookstore, I dressed more carefully than I had in months, choosing my favorite jeans, an olive-green sweater, a necklace and a bracelet. The morning was bright and sunny, which I took as a good omen.
Entering the freeway felt like a strange city, partly because of construction of the light rail which blocked the right lane, and partly because this is only my second trip on I-5 since the pandemic broke out. I hadn’t forgotten how to merge with the thick swell of cars and trucks, all moving far below the 60 MPH speed limit. The addition of rail lines and concrete barriers has changed the landscape, but the heavy Seattle traffic remains the same.
After I exited on Ballenger Way, I passed several office buildings bearing ‘For Lease. Signs. The Mexican restaurant is still there, likely surviving on carry-out orders by a loyal clientele. As I drove east, the familiar canopy of trees cast blinking shadows in and out of the sunlight. It had been more than a year, yet I still recalled how to get to the store. The parking lot was nearly vacant, and after I parked, I double glanced at the shop to ensure I was open.
The first change since I was last here were the signs on the two double door entries. Inside the building the next change I noted was there was no line at the adjoining cafe.
Clearly marked exit and entry only with reminders for customers they must wear masks and maintain social distances. The entrance side is blocked off with crime tape and the signs with arrows lead to the information desk. An individual stood at the entry and asked my business. I could have taken my prepaid book and left, but since the store was empty, and I’d already fulfilled a couple of hours early morning writing, I decided to use the allotted 30-minute time limit to browse.
The staff is enthusiastic and industrious, filling shelves and moving displays, and the selection of books, cards, and other goods remains abundant, but the shopping experience definitely felt altered. One of the things I’ve missed most since the pandemic outbreak is browsing the shelves at libraries and bookstores. Where I once may have spent two hours (and much more money) wandering through the aisles, I’m grateful to have the option for this in-person visit. The short visit to familiar territory made life feel more like normal and less like science fiction.