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Saturday, August 5, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle's oldest bookstore packs up for the Web

Seattle Times business reporter

Sam Shorey was not a particularly good businessman. He sold rare and common books for next to nothing at the bookstore that he founded 110 years ago in Pioneer Square.

Jim Todd hopes he has better business sense than his great-great-uncle. Todd, the current owner of Shorey's Bookstore, plans to take Seattle's oldest bookstore the way of Amazon and sell books entirely online by the end of the month.

"Shorey's is still there," said Todd. "It's just changing its form."

Still, the city will lose a landmark of sorts as Shorey's, now in Fremont, joins a growing number of independent bookstores that have shut their doors in recent years, unable to compete with the likes of Barnes & Noble and Amazon. com.

Todd at first didn't believe the Internet would do much damage to bookstores.

"I thought it was just a flash in the pan," said Todd. "I talked my wife out of buying Amazon stock. She will never let me forget that."

As foot traffic began to dry up, Todd knew he had to do something. A year ago, he began selling books on the store's Web site, www.serv. net/shorey. Today, Internet sales make up 60 percent of Shorey's revenue, although only 20 percent of the bookstore's stock is available online.

At the same time, Todd said, rents began to soar. Before moving to Fremont in 1996, Shorey's had moved from Pioneer Square to Second Avenue and Union and then to First Avenue near Pike Place Market. With his Internet sales now making up the bulk of his business, Todd said he could no longer justify the cost of renting store space.

"When you are spending thousands of dollars on a place making the same amount of money had you owned a barn in Walla Walla, it makes you wonder why you are doing it," he said.

Todd said the decision to close the store was painful.

But "we've got to do what's best for the business," he said. "Surviving is more important than staying the same."

Nevertheless, Todd said he might consider reopening the store at a different location, depending how well the Shorey's online venture fares.

Customers at the store had mixed feelings.

"I live in Port Angeles, so it will be more convenient for me to browse through the Web site," said Thomas Garrison, who will be a student at Purdue University.

Julie Lorensen, a Seattle nurse, wasn't impressed.

"I am a little disappointed," she said. "I haven't quite grasped the computer thing. I like to touch the books."

Thomas Lee's phone message number is 206-464-2448. His e-mail address is: tomlee@seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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