"I'll Sleep in the Aisles If I Have To," Says Struggling Twice Sold Tales Owner

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Alice Wheeler
Lutton in better financial times
Is Twice Sold Tales owner Jamie Lutton going bankrupt? "Bullshit!" she yells down the phone when I ask her about rumors to that effect. But during a heated and emotional conversation, the voluble, 50-year-old Lutton, a fixture on the used book scene for 25 years, qualifies that by saying: "Not yet." And even if she is going bankrupt, which she reiterates is none of my damn business, she says "I'm not closing" and mentions that her attorneys have told her she doesn't have to. Calling herself "too mean and too weird to learn another trade," she says: "Where am I going to go if I'm not a bookseller? I'll sleep in the aisles if I have to."

That would have to be the aisles of her Capitol Hill store, which has been around since 1987, earning a reputation for its resident cats as well as its passionate owner and extensive collection. A couple months ago, she says, she sold her store in Queen Anne, which opened six years ago. A former employee now runs the place and changed its name to Mercer Street Books. Lutton also owns a minority share in a Twice Sold Tales store in the University District.

"I'm obviously going through financial problems," she says. In this economy, "anybody in retail has lost their shirt and their jockstrap." Plus, there's the 800-pound gorilla: virtual booksellers. "The new menace on the horizon is electronic books--not just [those read on] Kindle but [on] BlackBerries," she says. She refers to a New York Times piece last week on struggling booksellers in England (presumably this one) and adds that pretty soon, the experience of browsing real books in a real store will be gone.

In the meantime, she offers to make a bet that she'll still be around in five years. Still, she seems near tears. "I tried to be funny and I slipped and showed you my despair," she says.

 
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