Louise Little is a University Book Store icon. She started 34 years ago as a cashier and is now CEO. But it all started when she read Nancy Drew as a kid.
A framed, antique book cover emblazoned with “Your University Book Store” hangs in Little’s purple and gold-painted office. The cover is faded, frayed and speaks to the store’s 115-year history.
“I consider myself a caretaker for this institution and it’s an honor and responsibility to steer it for future generations.”
“I fell in love the moment I stepped off the plane.” She came to Seattle from the Bay Area for her first visit in 1977 as a prospective UW student and immediately felt at home. “It was like an Ivy League school thanks to the beautifully green deciduous trees and views of the water and mountains. It was captivating.”
Nancy Drew and Little House on the Prairie books sparked her childhood imagination. She sent a handwritten letter to the publisher inquiring about her favorite Prairie characters. “My Nancy Drew collection is still in the family.”
“Reading opens so many worlds. When you fall into a book, it can unexpectedly change your life and perspective. I love it when a book makes me think differently. Books have always been a treasure.”
Old-fashioned cash registers with bells still rang up customers when she started work as a temporary cashier in June 1980. “It was my first summer in Seattle and I needed to earn my keep. I was riding the bus home, got off, walked into the bookstore and said I needed a job.” She worked part-time as a student and started her full-time career the day after graduating.
“In my day, tuition was $221 a quarter.” A double major in English and psychology, she paid her way through her senior year by making the 15-minute walk from her Alpha Phi sorority house to the bookstore.
“I enjoy the value of lifelong learning, which the bookstore really advocates. We live that out in our programming—author readings, community events, book fairs and our popular blog, to name a few.”
160,000 retail books. 89,200 square feet. 290 employees. “I hear people refer to it as the bookstore. I love that! We’re so many things to so many people, whether it’s students or the broader community.”
University Book Store opened for business on Jan. 10, 1900 in a cloakroom next to the UW President’s office in Denny Hall. It moved to its current location on the Ave in 1924.
University Book Store is one of more than 4,500 college stores in the nation—but it is second in total sales volume and leads all college stores in the sale of books and supplies.
“Independent bookstores help present different ideas. You can see what a community thinks is relevant and important, and you can stumble onto great books you never expected. You’re around people who have a passion for putting the right book into someone’s hands.”
From Ginger Rogers to Jimmy Carter, Little has met many famous faces thanks to the store’s 500 annual author readings. Local luminaries, however, remain some of her favorites. “It’s a fun part of my job! There are fabulous Northwest authors. We’re fortunate to have a wealth of writers who proudly support independent bookstores.”
“College is a wonderful time of life for most people. It was for me. As alumni, we have a sense of commitment to support the school and create special meaning and memories for the next generation. We want to pass the torch.”