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A bookstore like no other

Literature, art and community thrive at Browsers Bookshop

Browsers Bookshop, which has been a staple of downtown Olympia for 80 years and counting, has become a community gathering place with more than 17,000 books for sale and an art gallery on its second floor. Photo credit: Christina Butcher

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A trip to Browsers Bookshop in Olympia isn't just about buying books; it's about thumbing through stationary crafted by local artists, sharing a meal with friends at the cookbook club and enjoying a new exhibit in the upstairs art gallery. Browsers is more than a bookstore -- it's a community gathering place.

Browsers Bookshop is home to more than 17,000 books at any given time. It has a robust lineup of monthly book club meetings, author readings and book launches, and a rotating gallery of exhibits by local artists, all thanks to the bookshop's owner, Andrea Griffith.

"Over the last few years, I started saying yes to more events, especially those that would bring more folks into the store," said Griffith. "I didn't try to shape things too much, I just wanted to build community around the store ... it's all been very organic."

Since she took over Browsers in October 2014, Griffith has been carefully curating events and building a sense of community among patrons.

"When you take over a small business like I did, you're not necessarily thinking about all the community partnerships that it can be a part of," Griffith said. "But that's been one of the richest and most rewarding things to come out of this. Being able to support nonprofits, partner in interesting ways with interesting people in Olympia, and having the opportunity to be a part of my community in a way I didn't expect -- it's all been so rewarding."

Recent events at Browsers include the potluck-style Winter Cookbook Club, during which patrons dined on food created with recipes chosen from a designated cookbook; National Pie Day festivities, which included an author talk and pie tastings; and an author reading with debut novelist Mo Daviau. Events at the bookshop are known to bring in crowds of close to 60 people.

"One of our missions is to support local writers," said Griffith. "We love to hold events for them when we can."

In addition to literary events, Browsers also hosts visual arts exhibits in its upstairs community-gathering space. The gallery debuted eight months ago with a collective visual arts exhibit by local creators Arrington De Dionyso, Aisha Harrison, Evan Horback, Nikki McClure and Madeline Waits.

"The interest (in the gallery) has been overwhelming," said Griffith. "I've learned a lot in the eight months since we opened it. It's been a lot of fun."

Browsers' most recent exhibit featured pieces by The Preeminents, a newly formed group of artists including Nathan Barnes, Liza Brenner and Barlow Palminteri. The gallery is currently closed off, though, as the storefront undergoes renovations across the entire second-floor area and parts of the ground floor.

Renovations are expected to be complete near the end of March. In the meantime, the bookstore will remain open for patrons. "The renovation gives us the ability to use our upstairs space in even more meaningful ways," said Griffith. "Three years ago -- when I bought this store -- there was no way we could do any of these things."

Browsers Bookshop, open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday; 107 Capitol Way N., Olympia, 360.357.7462,

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