These days it’s often called an “infoshop” by some of its core constituency, but when Left Bank Books first opened on the date in focus here in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, it wasn’t even yet a proper bookstore. At first, our city’s best-known collective “third place” was a mere kiosk hidden within the Market’s chaos, selling mostly buttons and bumper stickers. After moving to its current storefront location in the Market’s main plaza “under the clock” roughly a year later, Left Bank soon established itself as a crucial fixture of Seattle’s radical community, a great source for shamelessly “lefty” books, magazines, and indie zines, as well as the crucial contact with kindred spirits such a place can provide for its patrons.
Left Bank was conceived when some of the co-founders of Red and Black Books — which opened earlier that year and was then located in the University District — left to form their own collective bookstore with a more focused anarchist identity, in contrast to the more general radicalism of Red and Black, itself an offshoot of the U District’s legendary Id Bookstore. The Left Bank Books Collective was successful enough by the 1980s that it expanded its operations to include AKA Books, a used bookstore in the U District, and Left Bank Distribution, a wholesale distribution and mail order project. Both projects eventually failed due to financial problems and rising rents in dot-com-era Seattle, but the flagship store fortunately survived these setbacks.
Red and Black Books, meanwhile, did not fare so well, despite the mutual support between it and Left Bank over the years. After moving its location a few times around the city, Red and Black eventually settled on 15th Avenue East on Capitol Hill in the early 1980s, and there acquired a focus on feminist and environmentalist literature. Financial problems forced Red and Black to close its doors for good in March 1999. Left Bank, of course, today remains a cozy haven from lukewarm liberalism and “Pike’s Market” tourists alike.
–Jeff Stevens. Sources: leftbankbooks.com; recollectionbooks.com.