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Collectively operated since 1973

(A) Brief History of Left Bank Books

Cat and a shoe

Left Bank Books has been a fixture of Seattle's radical community since 1973 when a group of people split off from the University District’s Red and Black Books to form their own collective bookstore in the Pike Place Market. The two projects would continue as separate but mutually supportive projects until the mid 90’s when Red and Black closed its doors. For much of the 80s and 90s, the Left Bank Books Collective expanded to include two other projects: AKA Books, a used bookstore in Seattle's University District, as well as a wholesale distribution and mail order project known as Left Bank Distribution. Neither of these projects exists today due to financial problems and rental situations in Seattle.

Left Bank is collectively owned and operated by its workers, and has been since its inception. As an anarchist collective, Left Bank has no bosses or managers. Decisions are made in bi-monthly collective meetings based on a consensus process. Despite all the changes over the years, Left Bank Books continues to thrive at our Pike Place Market storefront thanks to Seattle's radical community and the many folks who visit us from out of town. See you next time you're in the neighborhood!

Collective 101

Left Bank Books is a collectively operated business. This means that we have no boss; we are our own boss. The core staff is composed of roughly six paid members. We are responsible for bookkeeping, invoice payment, ordering, taxes, lease negotiations, volunteer coordination, marketing, and general store maintenance. We also have approximately twenty weekly volunteers who work at the store in exchange for discounts on books, and learning how to run an independent bookstore. History as a Left Bank volunteer is required to be hired for a paid staff position.

In 1973, Left Bank Books was founded by a small collective. In the late 1990s Left Bank Books became registered as a federal corporation. This transition was made namely so that in the event of financial difficulty at the store, individual employees would not be held financially responsible. Left Bank Books is not federally registered as a non-profit.

WHY A COLLECTIVE? So, why work in a collectively run business, and not one with a hierarchical structure? In our collective individuals are equally empowered to make decisions related to the store. We prioritize sharing knowledge and information with each other so that no one person possesses all the information about a particular task. We prefer to work in a non-hierarchical setting. All decisions are made through an informal consensus process. This means that all decisions are discussed until collective agreement is reached.

What was Left Bank Distribution?

Left Bank Distribution, or LBD, is a project that was started by the Left Bank Books collective in 1980 and essentially stopped functioning in 2001. LBD was a book distribution project that provided direct mail-order service of radical book, zines and magazines to individuals and bookstores during the 1980s and 1990s. We provided wholesale distribution of radical and alternative books, pamphlets, magazines and zines to independent bookstores, tabling projects, libraries and other organizations, as well as individuals. We produced a yearly mail order catalog. At the time LBD was in existence it offered one of the largest selections of anarchist & radical books in the world - conveniently providing difficult-to-locate materials to customers around the world, from Finland, to Brazil to Japan. Before AK Press existed there was LBD.

In the late 1990s the market for bookstores really began changing. Corporatization caused chains to proliferate, putting a lot of independent bookstores out of business. Financially, book distribution projects made an even smaller profit margin than most bookstores. One key way to make a book distribution project successful was to do business on a large scale. But, other radical book and literature distributors started up, as well, and the market became saturated in the 1990s, and LBD found it more and more difficult to run the mail-order project in a way that was financially sustainable. Publishing is another way to make a larger profit margin, but Left Bank only published occasionally, and this was not our focus, so making profit from publishing was not reliable for LBD. In the end the collective chose to end the mail order distribution project, so that it would stop losing money. Slowly, over the following ten years we paid off our debts from the distribution project with money we made from donations and from bookstore profits. Some accounts were no longer in existence by the time we had the money to pay off our debt, and other accounts forgave our debt as solidarity with our project.

Overall the record of the LBD project is sort of a time capsule, representing a snapshot of what was going on in the world of radical publishing during the 1980s and 1990s in the USA, and internationally. Some of the accounts we had during that time are independent and radical bookstores, publishers, magazines and authors that are no longer in existence. The archive of the LBD project is, in some ways a record of LBD itself, and is in other ways, a record of the radical and independent literary community during that time period.

You can visit our in-store Library that consists of many of the titles we used to distro as well as publish, or check out numerous titles to take home from the L@s Quixotes Lending Library located in the Wildcat.


Left Bank accepts items that are consistent with our values on consignment on 60/40 terms. If you'd like to open a consignment account, please bring sample materials by.