In the north end of Tacoma, Washington, overlooking Commencement Bay, is the Stadium District. This quaint neighborhood is named, not after a football stadium or any other type of sports arena, but rather after Stadium High School, a local historic landmark made famous by the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. The film, staring the late Heath Ledger, is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. However, what makes this neighborhood historically relevant, and more importantly interesting, are the buildings. This is because once upon a time, the Stadium District was home to many of the area’s lumber barons and railway executives. As such it offers a grand array of elegant homes, office buildings, and storefronts built around the turn of the 20th century. While the immense wealth and prosperity of the area’s founding fathers has long since migrated elsewhere, these stately old buildings are finding new purpose as part of Tacoma’s ongoing gentrification project.
Today, residing within this neighborhood, you will find dozens of modern, unique, independent, and often creative businesses, making the Stadium District a quintessentially, perfect setting for a funky independent bookstore. In this particular case, I am speaking of King’s Books, a bookstore with as much character as it does potential. Originally built in 1910, the once industrial space is now home to roughly 150,000 volumes of new and used books that range from old Chess manuals (some even written in Russian) to the latest best sellers.
From the moment you arrive, in the store’s car park you can instantly tell that you are in for a unique experience. This is due in part to the color and character of the neighborhood, but mostly it is the result of the full-walled mural, depicting the inside of the store in the rich hues of sepia and weathered parchment, that boasts of “King’s Books, Rare and Used Books, Almost a City Block of Books.” Clearly, who ever commissioned this mural has a deep love for books, and a quirky sense of humor. A peek at their website will further confirm this. There you will discover a creative and entertaining (if not all together serious) biography of the owner, an impressive number of book clubs and store events, and information concerning the store’s reigning monarch Atticus – a cat.
Inside the store, there is an unfinished feeling that starts with the last remaining pieces of the building’s original flooring just within the front door and continues along the long homemade bookcases. Dwarfed by the surprisingly tall cases, wandering through the store is not unlike plunging into an incredibly clean, well-lit, church basement, everything is organized, and the selection is excellent, but there is a wonderful haphazardness to it all as well. Perhaps this is because, unlike any other used bookstore I have ever encountered, King’s Books actually has space on some of the shelves. So while the Children’s and Mystery Sections are nearly erupting with the plethora of tomes they contain, other more unconventional sections still have room for a few new treasures.