Take a 20 minute walk west of the heart of downtown Burien on Southwest 152nd Street and you’ll find yourself in a quiet residential area called Seahurst. Compared to the bustle of Burien, Seahurst practically feels like a small town, with expansive views of Puget Sound and beautiful forest trails. A few businesses line Main Street – a small cafe called The Bean, a consignment store called Lollipops, and a cute little post office that wouldn’t be out of place in rural America.
However, the US Postal Service only occupies three quarters of the post office building; the leftmost 240 square feet of the storefront belong to a small but powerful independent bookstore called Books on the three trees. Founded by Ingrid and Tim Miller two years ago, Three Trees hits well above its weight. It’s a clean, bright store filled with books up to the rafters, but doesn’t feel overloaded.
âOwning a bookstore was a dream project for me, one of those things I’ve always wanted to do,â says Ingrid Miller. “I had a career in online advertising for 25 years, but decided I wouldn’t wait any longer.”
The Millers live not far from the post office, and when they saw that the space next door was available, they figured it would be perfect for a neighborhood bookstore. However, the tiny floor plan forced them to make some adjustments to their dream business model – they had to learn to embrace smallness. Tim Miller found an article on “a bookstore in Tokyo that only offers one book per month. They have a big party where they advertise the book, and it’s the only book they are carrying that month.
Three Trees would obviously have more than one title, but the Millers knew they would have to make every book on the shelves count. âI tried to imagine an airport bookstore, but with very good books,â Ingrid Miller laughs.
The Millers used their own personal library for inspiration, consulted well-read friends, and perused the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Best Seller Lists to fill the store with approximately 4,200 titles. Some of the omissions they must have made still haunt them: “I don’t think we even have ‘Jane Eyre,’ my favorite book,” Miller says. But thanks to modern distribution systems, virtually any other title in the world their customers want is only a day or two away.
It turns out that stocking the shelves of a bookstore is a deeply personal act. âAbout five years ago, I quit drinking and quit dieting, and these are things that really changed my life,â Miller says. In Three Trees, the section called “Self-Help” in most bookstores is called “QUIT STUFF” instead, and it’s full of books on quitting alcohol, fighting diet culture, and eating. intuitive.
âVery recently a woman came in and thanked me for not having any diet books,â she says. “It made me feel so good, and it reminded me of how important curation can be – not just for the sake of showing people books you love, but also to change the way of thinking. people. It is very powerful. “
Two years after it opened, says Miller, “the bookstore is still tiny and it’s still very organized, but it’s more organized by the community than by us.” The Millers pay close attention to the books their clients read and know that word of mouth can make any book a local bestseller. âWe have a few influencer clients who, the minute they pick up a book, I know I should order lots of copies,â she says.
Three Trees is already becoming a vital part of the Seahurst community – a place where civic conversations take place. Immediately after George Floyd’s murder, a customer spent $ 1,000 on anti-racist books to put in the free lending library cart the Millers keep on the front porch of Three Trees for the neighborhood to share. The Millers hope to replicate the success of this program by placing LGBTQ + – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer / questioning, with the + denoting anything to do with gender and sexuality – young adult titles in the lending library during the pride month in June. (Tim Miller doesn’t think that offering a free lending library hurts his store’s sales at all: âPeople are mostly so blown away that they come to buy books,â he says.)
For the coming year, Three Trees plans to expand its reach in the community. The Millers would like to find a space nearby where they could accommodate readings too large for the bookstore. Encouraged by strong sales during the pandemic, they are hoping to eventually bring in a bookseller or two on staff and increase store hours.
It’s a time of great possibilities for Three Trees Books, but the small storefront is still at the center of it all. While Ingrid Miller admits that navigating the narrow aisles can be “especially difficult with a baby, a backpack, or, in my case, a fat ass,” this challenge has become a Three Trees rite of passage. Once you accidentally spill a book on a shelf and on the floor, you are part of the family.
What do Three Trees Books customers read?
Three Trees hosts three book clubs covering a wide range of topics. A recent success of the Tiny Book Club, the store’s flagship product, is “An old lady is not goodA humorous collection of short stories from Swedish author Helene Tursten about an 88-year-old woman named Maud who becomes a serial killer. The author’s light-hearted approach to Maud’s surprising murderous madness – she only targets rude young people who underestimate their elders – prompted a heated discussion on topics that would otherwise seem too heavy for discussion in a club. reading.
A client recommended Gabrielle Zevin’s novel “The historical life of AJ FikryTo the Millers, and the novel about a bookstore owner finding a new way to enjoy life seemed to speak to them directly. It’s the kind of book that can reinvigorate your love of reading: Over the course of the novel, the protagonist discusses dozens of other books, many of which immediately found themselves rushed past the Millers reading pile.
“I have a little personal motivation” to promote one of Three Trees Books’ perennial bestsellers, admits co-owner Tim Miller. His uncle, Portland nature writer Brian Doyle passed away in 2019, but not without leaving behind an impressive job. Doyle “has published tremendously in a few years,” he says. The Millers recommend his novel “Mink River, “About the eccentric residents of a fictional town in the Northwest and its posthumous non-fictional collection,”One Long River of Song: Notes on WonderNew readers, but they make sure to have multiple copies of all of his books on hand. Three Trees has become a destination for fans of Doyle’s funny and compassionate work, a couple who recently made a pilgrimage straight to the store after their plane landed in Seattle. âWhen a client comes to shine after reading their work, it’s a hell of a feeling,â says Tim Miller.