Island Books, the independent bookstore that has been proudly serving Mercer Island for over 40 years, was selected as “Best Bookstore” by voters in King 5/Evening Magazine’s “Best of Western Washington” contest.
Owner Laurie Raisys and staff campaigned on their website and social media pages, but were still surprised and humbled by the results. She said it was a “banner year” for the store as the staff “worked — hard — this year, as we have every year, to be the best small town bookstore we could possibly be.”
“We ordered, we shelved, we stacked, we carried out trash and recycle, we listened, we suggested, we fought with each other, we hugged each other, we wrote blogs and newsletters, we set up events, we wrapped gifts, we rearranged store sections, we read our books, we swiped credit cards and made change, we stayed late for meetings, we researched, we made displays, we went to conferences, we gave prizes, and day after day we loved the store and we loved you, our customers and community,” according to the store’s newsletter.
Island Books has been around as long as the Elliot Bay Book Company, “another Seattle institution that we love and respect,” according to co-owner and Laurie’s husband Victor Raisys.
“We feel like we’ve always been in the shadow of our bigger sibling over in Seattle,” he said. “So we are super excited to finally be recognized (and beat our friendly rival).”
Laurie and Victor purchased the store two-and-a-half years ago from Roger and Nancy Page, and continued the tradition of Island Books serving not only as a “reading oasis” but also as a gathering place and all around curator of community.
“Our store has a special atmosphere, where booksellers remember who you are and the kind of books you read,” according to the Island Books website. “We may not be big, but everything inside is hand-selected with care, including cards, gifts, games, toys, locally-made chocolates and most importantly, the titles we personally know and love.”
When Islanders describe Island Books, they use words like “gem,” “community asset” and “beloved.” Many have been customers since childhood, and have supported the store since it opened in 1973 through many changes in the publishing and book selling industries.
“People ask us how we’re able to run a book business in the age of Amazon,” wrote Miriam Landis of Island Books. “We believe we’re in a different business from Amazon — we are all about experience and community and we believe that’s our business. People who come into a bookstore are immediately enchanted. They love the feel of the bookstore — from the collection of old typewriters, to the comfortable old wing-back chairs, to the smell of books.”
The store also distinguishes itself from online booksellers with high levels of customer service and a professional, experienced and knowledgeable staff of booksellers.
For the staff, book-selling is a vocation, it is not a path to something else. The longest tenured bookseller at Island Books has been there for over 20 years.
The store also hosts a lot of events and interesting speakers, from Joel McHale last fall to Nancy Pearl last week. They invite big name authors, and host local authors and self published authors as well.
The store is all about community, and currently in the midst of school book fairs, when 20 percent of revenues are donated to local schools and organizations.
Since Victor and Laurie Raisys acquired the bookstore, they’ve donated over $40,000 to the community.
Island Books and the Raisys family aren’t ones to pass up a chance for a celebration, so there will be one, with details announced soon.
See www.islandbooks.com for more.