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Book City: Seattle’s unlikely developer-bookstore owner Ron Sher

Ron Sher

Ron Sher uses books to help build vital communities. As founder and CEO of Sher Partners, his work ranges from redeveloping Crossroads Shopping Center to leading efforts on behalf of the Cascade Bicycle Club. As the majority owner of Third Place Company, Sher has a special interest in books. His Third Place Books stores are located in Lake Forest Park and Ravenna.

What books are on your nightstand at the moment?

Cowed by Gail Boyer Hayes and Denis Hayes. I know Denis, am interested in both agriculture and the environment, and have a place on Whidbey Island where cattle have been run in the past. Also The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon, which a friend recommended as a really fun read, and the premise seemed outlandish and intriguing.

A conversation reminded me of The Worm in the Apple, a wonderful short story by John Cheever. A re-read moved his collection, The Best Short Stories of John Cheever, from bookshelf to nightstand. Then there are four bicycle books that I’ve been intending to glance through before passing them on to the Cascade Bicycle Club for their new clubhouse.
 And then there’s A Chinaman’s Chance, by Eric Liu, a gift from Eric which I would have bought anyway. He writes beautifully and this book is giving remarkable context and insight into the influences on first generation Americans of Chinese descent.

Any book you’ve read lately that caught your imagination or changed how you look at the world?

I just finished The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kohler. I wouldn’t say that I was surprised at the impact man is having on our planet, but the speed at which irreversible change is happening is downright scary.

Why and when did you start your first bookstore?

It’s been about 15 years now since Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park opened. It is the first bookstore I’ve owned, although I’ve had several as tenants. I felt that locating a new and used bookstore, a coffee shop, and the restaurants and cafes along with other services and amenities would attract customers and enrich a community. I figured if I could bring all these elements together and open simultaneously, it would greatly improve the store’s chance of success.

Why the new/used books model of bookstore?

I like to see books passed on. It’s recycling, and it makes books more affordable. And I think it makes a bookstore even more interesting.

Any more Third Place Books in the works?

We are planning to open a new Third Place Books along with a restaurant at the site of the Seward Park PCC. They’re moving to Columbia City in July, and we hope to open in November.

Have you read a great book lately that you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends?

Two really powerful books I’ve read recently are Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes, and Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

What were your most cherished childhood books?

As a 10-year-old, I loved the adventure books by the English writer Enid Blyton. In my teens I remember Annapurna by Maurice Herzog, Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Do you have a book or two you’ve re-read over the years?

An enduring favorite of mine that I would strongly recommend is The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, by David McCullough. It is the story of the Panama Canal, but also so much more. I am also a great Horatio Hornblower fan. I’ve reread them all.

Can you speculate on the future of the book, and what that means for stores like yours?

The book as we now know it will be with us for a very long time. Other forms of reading and listening will most likely continue to grow as a percentage of sales, but I feel growth will be much slower than in the past. It will be interesting to see what happens when my generation passes on. Will we be replaced by book readers or digital readers? For me, browsing in a book store will always be much more thrilling than browsing on line.

What Val’s Reading This Week: The Words and Wisdom of Charles Johnson, a big, fat collection of eclectic short pieces. Johnson is an award-winning novelist, Buddhist and longtime University of Washington fiction professor who lives in Seattle. His voice is casual, even conversational in these bits-and-pieces on subjects ranging from what inspires his writings to his study of the martial arts and his daily habits and writing routines.

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