101 Things to Do in Ballard: Old World approach to bookstores
At Abraxus you won't find espresso machines and People magazine. You'll find the musty smell of old books, hand-written signs for various genres of books, globes and small sailboats as d/cor.
For the past twelve years owner Tony Topalian has run the kind of bookstore that actually feels like a bookstore, not a multi-level department store for books; the kind of bookstore that you'd expect to find in Ballard.
Topalian calls it an "Old world type approach to bookstores." Academically trained in the Humanities, he says, "The impetus to start [things in life] often begins with books." With the goal of encouraging customers to browse, learn, and discover, he wants to build a business that challenges the notion that the book is dead.
He sees bibliophiles day in and day out; people who seek out Abraxus for their love of books. Some teenage customers have been frequenting Abraxus since childhood. Or take Seattle police officer Clark Pine who's a regular. During his off hours he likes to visit the bookstore.
Officer Pine says, "One of the coolest things about this place is the space. There couldn't be a better place for books - a library. This is my favorite used bookstore."
That's right - Abraxus used to be the old Ballard Public Library, and it still looks and feels like a library in terms of its ambiance and layout.
Abraxus sells new, used, and rare books. Boasting of over 120,000 books in the store, Abraxus buys about 2,000 used books each week for cash or trade between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. All staff members are trained to buy, and most have an advanced degree.
One young man walks up to the counter and asks Topalian, "Do you have a book on aviation history?" Topalian personally walks him to the section. Even though Abraxus has an online business, Topalian wants treasures for his in-store inventory. He prefers the personal interaction of servicing someone in the store versus someone he'll never meet.
You'll find various genres from self-help to New York Times best-sellers. From American Presidents, Mysteries, Literary Criticism, to original works in foreign languages; a philosophy section that covers the big buffs - Kierkegaard, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, and Plato. Topalian wants to encourage people to put in the time to understand the philosophy behind Western culture and phenomenon.
But the most interesting part is the Maritime section, something Ballardites will appreciate. Topalian loves the rich maritime history that the northwest offers, but he couldn't find a bookstore with a great maritime section. Wanting to preserve that heritage, he aggressively buys in this genre and has several cases devoted to various maritime aspects - like sail racing and naval history.
Rare books are scarce books that appreciate over time, such as first editions or unique books. You'll find classis works such as Lee's Lieutenants on the Civil War, first edition David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, and Nancy Drew Mystery Stories first edition prints, which are becoming scarce due to the fact that the acidic paper will disintegrate in about 100 years.
Rare books range from a couple hundred bucks to 30,000 dollars, sought out at estate sales and auctions. "I like the idea of preserving books," says the owner.
And that's what you'll find at Abraxus, a place that preserves the classic idea of books - something lovely and antiquated, stimulating our minds and enhancing our lives.
5711 24th Ave. N.W.
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sun 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.