King's Books

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218 St. Helens Ave.
(253) 272-8801

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Weekly Volcano Review Reviewed by: Jessica Corey-Butler

The painting on the side of the building looks like it’s been there forever, well suited for a Tacoma icon many consider one of the cultural treats that set Tacoma apart from the average strip-mall enclave.  It’s the kind of book store where you can bring your well-loved tomes and make a couple of bucks, where you can buy a previously well-loved volume, or order a new piece of literature that you can look forward to the way a kid anticipates Christmas.

And with events like the recent Love Tacoma’s Feed Your Head Night, Harry Potter book release shindig, the annual Wayzgoose, and the upcoming adult Spelling Bee, King’s Books feels like it’s been a business entity for at least the last decade.

Possibly, that’s because owners John Schoppert and Pat McDermott have an established sense of the book trade.  They worked together at another small city-gone-gentrified, Portland, at Portland book shop icon Powell’s.  Schoppert stayed west, eventually opening King’s on upper St Helens on “April Fools, Day, 2000—the only day to start a business,” Schoppert proclaims proudly, smiling the broad San Diegan casual smile that’s his trademark.

Meanwhile McDermott went to Madison, Wis., opening and operating McDermott’s Books before heading back out to the Northwest to join with King’s Books in 2003.
McDermott brought sweet pea (as well as his wife, Lisa, and daughter, Abegale) to Tacoma where the shop and the three have quietly brought an overriding sense of the cerebral to the Stadium District, along with a couple of furry felines. 

But they didn’t stop there: they let the brain power seep into other parts of the community, like the Banned Book Club partnership with the Tempest Lounge.  And then there are the events that bring community to the shop, like their distinguished author series and events intended as fundraisers for organizations such as the Scholars and Champions Association and the Book Arts Auction, which will be held October 4 to raise funds for Tacoma Public Schools book acquisition.

And it goes beyond the local sector.  Elaborates sweet pea: “Now publishers and organizations (like the ACLU and Associated Ministries) are contacting us. … We’re finally on the map.”

That’s been through no mean effort by sweet pea himself.  Arguably the most individualistically coiffed, dressed and named person in Tacoma, sweet pea is the driving force behind events that have put Kings on the map.  His association and conversations with Jessica Spring led to the successful catapulting of the Wayzgoose into the social calendars of many Tacomans who now can consider themselves literate in the ways of letterpress as an art form that blends book arts with accessibility.

And it’s through other associations, like those with Michelle Douglas and Denise Tempest, that a community of open-minded thinkers can read challenged books and wonder what the heck libraries were thinking upon banning them; this idea led to the concept that is the Banned Book Club at Tempest; at this event, readers of all genres and books can indulge in one love — sipping — as well as another — reading — and meet with like minded individuals without the confines of having to read one specific book.

“It’s about finding the different cultures we can cultivate,” notes sweet pea, saying, “The strength of the independent book store is that you have the chance to do that.”
And don’t even think for a second that it stops with books.

Sure, the whole “book art” thing has been alluded to, which is great. Because in Tacoma, success follows the word “art” like a cat follows a can of tuna.

Beyond that, it’s the generally cerebral that eddies through King’s Books.  Smart is sexy, and at King’s, go in wearing sweats but talking Proust and Paris Hilton will look like sardine heads next to you (but the cats might dig her.)

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