Brick & Mortar Books will open at Redmond Town Center in May

Nearly six years have passed since Borders Books & Music closed its 25,000-square-foot location at Redmond Town Center, the result of its parent company, Borders Group, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company eventually closed all its stores and went out of business, leaving Redmond readers with Half Price Books and McDonald’s Book Exchange to meet their local reading needs.

That will change in May when Dan Ullom and his parents, Tina and John, open Brick & Mortar Books at Redmond Town Center. It’s a career change for Ullom, 40, a Sammamish resident who has called the Eastside home since moving here from Orcas Island as a teenager. He graduated from Eastlake High School, and spent the past 14 years as an elementary school teacher in the Issaquah School District.

The Ulloms were inspired two years ago to open a bookstore after they read a newspaper article about Jeff Kinney, the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, opening his own bookstore, An Unlikely Story, in Plainville, Massachusetts. “We secretly harbored this collective dream of running a bookstore,” Ullom said. “We kind of thought this is a guy who can afford to open a bookstore and take his punches. That’s probably not us. But the more we looked into it, the more we thought this was a time that independent bookstores were actually doing OK, and maybe this is a way that we can do what we love and make a living.”

The 4,000-square-foot shop will move into about half the space formerly occupied by Eddie Bauer. It will carry approximately 20,000 new book titles, with about one-third of the inventory geared toward kids and young adults. Three to five people will work in the store (including Dan and his mother, a former librarian, full-time; and his father, an environmental cleanup consultant, part-time), and the Ulloms envision it as a community hub for story times, book clubs, discussion groups, and author appearances.

We’re not going to do coffee (or have a café) because there are four coffee places that are so close and already do a great job,” Ullom said. “We want to be in the business of books. I love drinking coffee, but I love everything about books.” A soft opening is scheduled for late-May, with a grand opening planned for June.

425 Business spoke with Ullom to discuss his family’s decision to open Brick & Mortar Books.

425 BUSINESS: How did you settle on Redmond Town Center as the location for your store?

DAN ULLOM: Originally, we thought about doing this in Sammamish because we thought we wouldn’t be able to get into Redmond. But rents were more in Sammamish than they were in Redmond, and Redmond had more people. The team at Redmond Town Center was amazing. A bookstore in 2017 really needs to be a community hub. That coincides with what (Redmond Town Center) is interested in. They know that a mall in 2017 needs to find creative ways to bring people in. We were all on the same page.

425 BUSINESS: There is a precedent of Borders Books being at Redmond Town Center but going out of business in 2011. Does that give you pause?

ULLOM: That’s a fair question. There have been a ton of questions like that that we have thought about. The Borders chain went out of business, but (the Redmond Town Center) Borders was one of the last stores to go because it was a successful Borders. If it wasn’t the Borders chain, and if it was just a (stand-alone) bookstore, I think the store would still be there. When we tell people that we are opening a bookstore in Redmond Town Center, a lot of them say, “I still miss the Borders. I still haven’t found a way to replace that experience.”

425 BUSINESS: We hear a lot about e-commerce and online retail. The name of your store, Brick & Mortar Books, seems to be going against all of that. Is that a misread? Or are you embracing the idea of physical bookstores?

ULLOM: We’re not going to change anybody on e-commerce and online retail, but people want to get together and talk about books. That’s what we believe. I think e-commerce and online retail are great if you are looking to save a couple bucks. Maybe if you know the book you are looking for already, that’s the way you’ll go. But I miss places where you find what you weren’t looking for. I used to work at a video store and it’s so sad to me that I can’t just go and find a classic movie that I have never heard of or get a recommendation from the quirky clerk or the person who that’s their passion. We don’t want to see that go away. We met with somebody today for a management position and she said, “You know what I miss about (working in a bookstore)? I miss putting a book in a kid’s hand. They weren’t a reader, and now they are a reader. They found that love of books through one book and a recommendation.”

More information about Brick & Mortar Books is available online at https://www.brickandmortarbooks.com/.

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