Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Mary Zippel and Kathryn Quackenbush "move" books

At Large in Ballard: Women of the book

First there was a room without a real purpose; someone proposed they build a bookcase and have books for borrowing. Then shelves overflowed and they wanted more bookcases, and so it became a bookstore. It’s a bookstore open to the public that too few people know exists, run by a dedicated group I like to call the women of the book at the Ballard Senior Center.

Librarian for life Mary Ellen Zippel has reinstituted a card catalog and uses the bottom shelf of the coffee table as storage for the reference books she uses to respond to questions. Meanwhile semi-retired forensic scientist Kathryn Quackenbush sets up mobile sales outside Chase Bank and is establishing honor system outposts at additional locations. Wendy McCallen, former tavern owner and rummage sale savior is willing to do whatever is needed - and knows the bosom makes a good short-term place to stash the cash. (I wasn’t supposed to call it her titty bank). Patricia Hayes helps keep the books in order and additional volunteers collect and deliver books.

So no, I don’t know when Twice Sold Tales is going to open in the former Epilogue Books location but there are already two used bookstores just across on 22nd NW. And now there’s a bookstore just off reception at the 32nd NW entrance of the senior center. The Ballard Senior Center Bookstore pricing is very straightforward; the most expensive book is $1.00.

Mary Zippel won’t mince words about the precarious state of funding for senior services, “The Senior Center is about to go bust everyday.” The Ballard senior center relies greatly on its tri-annual rummage sales, ever diminishing funds from the city budget and its annual “Spring for Seniors” dinner/auction (Sunday, March 24th). The bookstore is now an independent entity within the senior center with the goal of providing another source of funds to keep the hot meals, field trips, classes, activities and heat running at the senior center.

These women of the book want to do more than fill the honor system boxes, they want to fill the needs of their patrons. Like all the best proprietors they know the taste of every one of their clients and acquire books that fit their interests. In an age when fewer Large Print books are being printed they have three shelves, many of which they’ve acquired with their own money. Romances? They have got shelves of them. Art books. History. Fiction and non-fiction, even CDs and DVDs. The hardcovers are $1.00, quality paperbacks are $.75 and regular paperbacks $.50. They encourage readers to re-donate the book after they are done.

“I’m a librarian,” Zippel said. “It’s in my blood. I want to find materials for people.” She was drawn to the school library growing up in Wisconsin and is only nominally retired now. She received her undergraduate degree from one UW and her Master’s in Library Science from ours. At Seattle’s central library she was a “big crowd storyteller” and a puppeteer. She transitioned to adult books in the northwest sector, subbing even after retirement. She grins, “They’d pay me money to buy books!”

Her fellow bookstore member Kathryn Quackenbush looks innocent until she starts sharing the fingerprint jokes she thinks up at night. Trained by the FBI she worked for various city and county law enforcement agencies and the Washington State Patrol. She still gets called in when there’s a backlog. (I never tire of hearing her say, “I’m a fingerprint specialist.”) She loves reading but for her the bookstore is for “fun.” She grew up in Ballard; her parents had a store that is now the showroom for Bogart, Bremmer & Bradley Antiques on 15th NW. Quackenbush recalls roasting hot dogs out by the incinerator.

Zippel and Quackenbush describe another core member, Wendy McCallen, as a consummate saleswoman who is also stepping in to help organize the rummage sale that was the domain of Queen Bea until her health declined. “’What are we doing now, Mar?’ she’ll ask me,” Zippel said. There’s a reason they’ve been referred to as The Book Movers Group.

It’s not a big bookstore but there’s a fine selection Monday-Friday in the increasingly welcoming room. There’s a couch, a table and chairs, wireless access, walls of books and some CDs and DVDs. Zippel can’t help herself from using the Dewey Decimal system in the travel section. Quackenbush makes weekly rounds of her locations, such as a shelf at Kiss Café, to refresh the selections. So this is what retirement looks like, doing what you love.

Zippel doesn’t fuss about buying whatever the library needs. “I don’t actually count it,” she said. “It’s just what I do for my gift to the Senior Center. The only time I get feisty is when someone tells me it should have been done differently.”

March 24th “Spring for Seniors” dinner & auction details are available at http://www.ballardseniorcenter.org/ Ballard Senior Center 5429 32nd Ave NW, Seattle, WA (206) 297-0403. They are open 8:30-4:30 Monday-Friday and so is their bargain of a bookstore.

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