Browsers Bookshop has been in downtown Olympia for 80 years. In that 80 years, four different women have owned the store. I am Andrea Y. Griffith and I bought the shop in late
2014 with with my husband Telfer and his parents, Chris and Mendy Griffith. We are all bookish types and having been browsing (and buying) books at Browsers for years. When Telfer and I were dating in college, we would visit his family in Olympia and always stop at Browsers. I majored in English and always wanted to own the books that I read. After college, I went to library school and worked as a medical librarian for about a decade before taking over Browsers. Telfer and I went to college in Idaho, lived in Southern California and New York before moving to Olympia where we intend to stay. We have two small daughters, Cate and Jane, who think it’s normal, and sometimes a bit annoying, to run around a bookshop.
A little about me: I have always been nuts about books. I was the kid reading under the table, staying up too late reading with a flashlight in bed. All the the lovely, cliche images of bookworms were true for me. I read and reread Nancy Drew (in order), Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Jane Eyre. As an adult, I loved being a librarian for the most part. I am a good researcher but I found myself at my most persuasive telling the physicians they should read The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson or The Spirit Catches You When You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. Taking over Browsers seemed like a good fit for all of us.
My goals for Browsers are pretty simple, really. We want to build a community of like-minded readers that think of Browsers as their neighborhood bookstore. We want to make the space beautiful and bookish. We want to create a space that people can meet to talk about books and writing. We want to keep adding a curated mix of new and used books. I love the mix of the two. New books keep the shop relevant and used books keep the shop grounded.
Browsers Bookshop originally began in Aberdeen in 1935 as Anna Blom’s Book Shop. Anna was a Russian Jewish immigrant, born in 1884. She was self-educated, well-read and intelligent. After she divorced and with two young children, she relocated her bookstore to Olympia on the advice of the Washington Supreme Court Judge Walter Beals, who thought Olympia might better support a bookshop during the Depression.
Anna Blom’s Bookshop was first located on east Fourth Avenue, about three blocks east of Capitol Way. At some point it moved to the corner of Washington and Legion where Drees is now located. In 1968, Anna began to have eye trouble and sold her shop to Ilene Yates, a former schoolteacher who changed the name of the shop to Browsers. In 1979, Ilene bought the building where Browsers is now, 107 Capitol Way. The building was for many years a tavern and needed quite a lot of work in order to make the transition from bar to bookstore. Only the front half of the shop was used and when Jenifer Stewart, one of Ilene’s employees, bought the shop in 1985, she worked to renovate the back half to also house books. Jenifer raised her two daughters while running the shop for nearly 30 years. I took over in late 2014 and Jenifer kindly stayed on for a few months to show me the ropes. And Browsers continues on, providing just the right book to just the right reader.
**Jenifer Stewart provided much of the detail on the history of the shop.