Now West Seattle’s only bookstore, Pegasus Book Exchange is thriving

(Pegasus’s Eric Ogriseck thumbs through a rare offering: A 1906 first edition of “Peter Pan”)

Story and photos by Tony Lystra
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Now that the Westwood Village Barnes & Noble has closed its doors, Pegasus Book Exchange is West Seattle’s last surviving bookstore — and, despite a deluge of obituaries for America’s independent bookstores, business is booming at the family-owned store at 4553 California Avenue SW, employees say.

Eric Ogriseck, who has worked at the store for seven years, said 2018 was the best year in Pegasus’ history. The banner year was, no doubt, helped along by last year’s closure of Merryweather Books, just a few storefronts up California Avenue. Still, Ogriseck said, revenues at Pegasus have been jumping roughly 5-10 percent in recent years.

The vast majority of the book store’s shelves are piled with used books, but the store started selling a few new titles more than a decade ago, when customers were clamoring for new copies of the hit teen vampire drama Twilight.

With Barnes & Noble closing, Ogriseck said more books are on their way to Pegasus, which has been owned for nearly four decades by Fred and Lanthe Epps, of Mount Vernon, and managed by their grown daughter Emma Epps.

“We have to kind of stay with the times,” said Ogriseck, who added that the store will likely increase its new book inventory by 10 percent.

The store’s single bestselling book of all time is Michelle Obama‘s “Becoming.” Pegasus has sold 180 new copies of the former First Lady’s memoir since its November release, “which is insane for us,” Ogriseck said.

“Michelle Obama is a game-changer for us,” he said. That single book, Ogriseck said, showed that Pegasus’ patrons want to buy new books — and a lot of them.

(Records of recently sold new books)

Ogriseck said Obama’s book sold so well at least partly because of the neighborhood Barnes & Noble store’s then-impending closure.

“This is the most (new books of every title) we’ve ordered for Christmas and it paid off,” he said.

Shoppers in The Junction mostly come to Pegasus for a gently treated volume of that book they’ve been meaning to read, to discover oddities hidden the among the store’s weathered shelves, and to chat with the store’s clerks, who seem to know everyone.

“I loved seeing your mom during the holidays,” Ogriseck said to a woman whose mother had visited from Staten Island. He then enthused about the joys of a New York accent.

A short time later, Ogriseck waved away cash from a man with shoulder-length brown hair who was trying to pay for a cheap paperback. “I’ve got ya, bro,” Ogriseck said.

And then, moments later, Ogriseck cracked a wild smile and boisterously refused to serve a pair of teenage girls, both clearly regular customers. The girls nearly doubled over with laughter.

“You can say anything in a bookstore,” Ogriseck said. “We’re kind of like bartenders of the mind.”

Ogriseck, who is one of the store’s three employees, said parents often drop off their kids, who wander the stacks and squat to the floor, cracking science fiction and fantasy books and reading for hours.

“It’s a safe place to be,” he said.

Regulars also keep coming back to take advantage of Pegasus’s trade-in policy. The store offers customers half of what it would sell a book for, which patrons can keep as a store credit. Customers can then pay for half a purchased book’s price with their store credit. (If Pegasus would sell your used book for $10, you would get $5 in store credit. If you buy a $4 book, you can use $2 of your store credit and pay $2 cash.)

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a couple lugged in two plastic garbage bags strained by the sharp edges of already-read hardcovers. Ogriseck tore open the bags and picked through the piles, marveling at a title he’d never seen before: “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality — Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century.” No bundle of used books hauled in by customers is ever the same, he said.

Behind Ogriseck was an aged, metal card catalogue, which contains handwritten, alphabetized notecards, each keeping track of customers’ store credits. Ogriseck said the cabinet stores more than 18,000 names collected over more than 30 years. The store sometimes honors the decades-old credits of dead patrons for surviving family members who come to shop, he said.

Among the store’s rarer titles is a 1965 first edition, first printing of the sci-fi classic “Dune,” by Frank Herbert, which is on sale for $4,500. Another: A first printing of James Matthew Barrie‘s “Peter Pan” for $800.

(Customer Bob Setzer talks with Pegasus’s Eric Ogriseck)

“This place is like a museum,” said Bob Setzer of West Seattle, who has worked in the printing and book business, as a pressman, editor, and book broker, since 1953. “This guy carries books no one else has.”

On this day, Setzer was headed home with a less-exotic but prized find: a $3 Winston Churchill biography.

Conventional hand-wringing says Amazon — which sells nearly half of the books Americans buy — is driving family-owned bookstores like Pegasus out of business.

Independent bookstores did indeed slip into what looked to be a death spiral in 1995. Over the next five years, 43 percent of U.S. independent bookstores closed. But independent bookstores have enjoyed a surprising comeback. Between 2009 and last year, their numbers increased by 40 percent, to more than 2,300 across the U.S.

That’s due partly to the hole left in the marketplace after Borders closed its doors in 2011, but it’s also true that communities have come to cherish a neighborhood bookstore as authentic and tangible, industry observers say.

In fact, Amazon has managed to cause more trouble for big brick-and-mortar chains than it has for charming and dusty mom-and-pop stores. Amazon was largely credited with slaying Borders, which was the second-largest bookstore in the U.S. Barnes & Noble, meanwhile, has been sputtering for years. Its sales have steadily plummeted, and it’s been shuttering stores and slashing its workforce. The company has been desperately trying to find its second act, even selling toys and even planning to offer alcohol in its cafes. Last summer, the company abruptly fired its CEO, its fourth in five years.

Barnes & Noble has been a source for freshly read, nearly new books for Pegasus. As soon as they’ve turned the last page of a popular title bought new at Barnes & Noble, customers often bring it to Pegasus for trade, Ogriseck said. He wondered if people will trade fewer new titles now that the Westwood Barnes & Noble has closed.

Still, he said many customers have insisted that at least one West Seattle bookstore survive. Some, he said, pay Pegasus a premium to get them a new book, even if it means employees simply order the title from Amazon and have it delivered to the West Seattle store for pickup.

“I’ve never worked in a place where people want to support a business so much,” Ogriseck said.

34 Replies to "Now West Seattle's only bookstore, Pegasus Book Exchange is thriving"

  • SLS January 13, 2019 (5:40 pm)

    This is a great story–my kids and I have been going to Pegasus for years.  My favorite place in West Seattle! 

    • Pelicans January 14, 2019 (3:00 am)

      OMG! Saw the headline and  just about fainted. My best book store! Please, please stay! 

  • ACE January 13, 2019 (6:00 pm)

    Wonderful store. Along with Easy Street, my favorite in West Seattle. Thanks to the staff for their awesome and friendly service. My 4 year old loves their children’s section and regulary picks something out on Farmers Market Sunday.

  • L January 13, 2019 (6:09 pm)

    “Spreading rumor”? That Barnes and Noble closed permanently yesterday, pretty sure we’re past rumors.I’m glad book sales aren’t falling, but I’m really disappointed to learn if I order a new book from Pegasus that it might be coming from Amazon

    • WSB January 13, 2019 (6:50 pm)

      Sorry, that was my error in not catching it in editing – Tony turned the story in earlier this week but I only now got the chance to publish it and thought I’d caught all of the changes that needed to be made to past tense. Missed that one. (We reported the closure plan all the way back in October.) Fixing.- TR

    • Eric Ogriseck January 14, 2019 (8:59 am)

      L, we have many customers who do not want us to order books from Amazon and if they ask us we will avoid ordering from them, we do have a primary vendor for our new books, Ingram, and when ordering used books we can use Alibris, who is the only major used bookseller who is not associated with Amazon.  This sometimes means paying a bit more and having to wait a bit longer for the special order to arrive but we are glad to accommodate that request.  Thanks WSB for editing the tense on the closure of B&N and for approaching us to write this wonderful article.

      • Shandon Graybeal January 14, 2019 (9:30 am)

        Eric- you are one of my favorite people in West Seattle to visit.  The books are great, obviously, but your customer service and personality is a big reason I always come back.  I’m so glad you’re a part of this community.  

        • Eric O January 14, 2019 (10:10 am)

          Shandon, thanks you are amazing as well and so is Alair.  I really appreciate the wonderful compliment, it is quite nice hearing such things.  Cheers to you!

          • L January 14, 2019 (8:14 pm)

            Ohh that definitely makes me feel better; amazon’s bookselling practices are awful and I try not to buy any books from them

  • Lowmanbeachdrive January 13, 2019 (6:15 pm)

    I love this place.  I don’t buy many books (I am more a library person), but when I do, I buy them here.  Eric is really knowledgeable and friendly.  The books are affordable and their exchange program (where you can bring in your old books and build up a credit to buy “new-to-you” books) is awesome.  Did I say I love this place?

  • MrsT January 13, 2019 (6:39 pm)

    Love the store and the staff! Shop local!!

  • Kathy January 13, 2019 (7:02 pm)

    Love this store! Emma always has great recommendations for me. It’s one of my favorite W. Seattle haunts…

  • S. Elliott January 13, 2019 (7:10 pm)

    Great story! There is nothing like roaming the aisles at Pegasus! 

  • Anu January 13, 2019 (7:41 pm)

    Love this story! So happy to hear that Pegasus is thriving. They deserve it. They have such a great collection and Eric is so helpful and knowledgeable. I love going to the store! It’s one of my favorite places in West Seattle.

  • Reader January 13, 2019 (8:00 pm)

    Pegasus is fabulous. We have a three generation used book card there!

  • Aaron January 13, 2019 (8:09 pm)

    Seriously, this is the best book store! My kids and I have been coming for years..selling books..buying books. They have the best recommendations, it’s unbelievable. I’m so glad to hear they are doing so well!!! They deserve it. This captured that easy going, smart vibe they have perfectly..

  • Wsgal January 13, 2019 (8:24 pm)

    Great news to hear, love this shop. 

  • Lynda January 13, 2019 (10:40 pm)

    I had a brief panic attack when reading this article.  I thought it was another store closing notice.  This store is a weekly fixture in our lives and we would be lost without it!  Eric is amazing and chatted up my mom in her native German when I brought her in one day it was memorable!  Pegasus is our lifeline in the hood! We love you guys so much!  Cheers Eric from Lynda with a Y! ❤Oh and Sidney and Sawyer say hello too! 😘

  • Kat January 13, 2019 (11:19 pm)

    Love this store..Jimmy, Eric amd Emma are fabulous…answer any questions, offer suggestions and  know books.  They all rock!  Love supporting our local bookstore…stay for a long, long, long time…its intergenerational at this point!

  • Calires January 14, 2019 (4:08 am)

    My late mother loved going to Pegasus on visits.  She would buy so many books that part of her going home ritual was stopping by the UPS store on the way to the airport to ship all her books back because there were too many to take on the plane.  I’m very glad to hear that they’re doing well.

  • R January 14, 2019 (6:27 am)

    We love this bookstore and the bartenders working there are money! Great, great place

  • D-Mom January 14, 2019 (8:04 am)

    Pegasus is a great store that I could get lost in for hours (if my son would let me). But I’m very sad that it is the only bookstore in West Seattle. Such a well-read community. This is 2 miles from my house. With B&N closing there is not a single bookstore between the WS junction and Burien. So sad!  Come on people!  Buy less from Amazon and keep what we have open. I sure would love to see another bookstore open in the south end, but I doubt that will happen. 

  • Admiral Mom January 14, 2019 (9:34 am)

    I love this bookstore so much! First of all, reusing books is so important in terms of waste. I prefer to use the library as much as possible, but sometimes I like to keep a book and this is a great option. Plus, it’s great to have this business in West Seattle. I’ve called them before to ask if they had a book in stock and they’ve been so friendly and helpful. Don’t forget to donate books to them as well! 

  • Jen L. January 14, 2019 (10:43 am)

    We love Pegasus! My kids have built up so much credit there we’ve become a bit infamous, I think. We have a great time whenever we stop in, always find a few gems, and love knowing the  books my children have outgrown will find a new home with another happy kiddo. ❤️

  • Erica Karlovits January 14, 2019 (11:33 am)

    We love Pegasus – a regular stop for our family every Sunday.  I think our kids buy every minecraft and pokemon book that hits the shelves!   Love that we can find these used titles and the incredible books for children!  Thank you!!

  • Greg Carlock January 14, 2019 (12:11 pm)

    Seriously? “Really disappointed”? Pegasus is a dealer ( the best in the west ) in used books; if you choose to order a new book through them, what does it matter what the source is? Cheers, Eric!

    • Michelle January 14, 2019 (1:14 pm)

      Seriously Greg, ‘the best in the west’.  Pegasus is indeed the best in West Seattle and a deservedly loved institution of The Junction,  but it is small and has limited space for its exotic selections compared to say,  Portland’s Powell Books used inventory.It is somewhat ironic that we found a new copy at Pegasus of “Michelle” after Barnes and Noble in Westwood was sold out, thus ended up spending an extra $12 for a book that likely came from Amazon.  Our daughter alerted me to Pegasus’ selling of new bestsellers (a full list price)  and her purchase as I was on my way to COSTCO which had the book in stock.

    • L January 20, 2019 (9:35 pm)

      It matters where the book is sourced from because Amazon sells books at or below wholesale cost, which they can get away with because they make it up on other items and terrible labor practices. In the meantime, they’ve normalized the discounted prices for books as the standard so that many people prefer to shop on Amazon and not their local bookstore. Then once they’ve put all the competition out of business, they’ll be able to charge whatever they please.So if I go out of my way to shop at a local bookstore, I want my money to support that local bookstore and only that bookstore, not the monopoly working to get a stranglehold on the market. So yeah, it does actually matter to me where that book was sourced from.

  • R.K. Bentley January 14, 2019 (2:24 pm)

    Great store. The book I wrote is in the sci-fi section. :)

  • Merry N January 14, 2019 (4:17 pm)

    All of West Seattle would be lost without Pegasus. If they don’t have what you want, they will call when it comes in. Fun and friendly staff and a comfortable place to be. Who doesn’t love a great book store?

  • Rosalie Miller January 14, 2019 (8:47 pm)

    Our family can always trust Eric’s book recommendations. It’s great to get our daughter’s school books locally (used or new).  And we are always rewarded by a friendly greeting.  Thanks for being a great resource in West Seattle. 

  • LAintheJunction January 14, 2019 (9:15 pm)

    I ❤️ Pegasus. We’ve lived 2 blocks away and shopped there for 20 years. Fred, Emma, and now Eric are friendly, knowledgeable, and simply great people. I buy all my books there and take all my trade-ins there too – although I need to read more since I have tons of credit on the books! Thanks for being one of my favorite stores in the Junction. 

  • Beth January 15, 2019 (7:27 pm)

    We LOVE Pegasus! It’s a West Seattle treasure and one of our favorite Sunday stops. Fred, Eric and Emma are incredibly knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. We always look forward to getting our weekly “drink” from the “bartenders”! 

  • LB January 15, 2019 (9:36 pm)

    Wonderful coverage of my favorite place……whether browsing for a new read or bringing in items for potential trade, every visit is made extra special by Eric, Emma and Jimmy’s warm welcome, lively banter, and great suggestions.  A treasure in our community.

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