Cinema Books could exist in a beloved novel or as the backdrop in a classic film. Its well-worn, well-loved wooden shelves bow slightly from the weight of so many accumulated volumes—20,000 in all. Books overflow onto the floor, stacked into Jenga-like piles. Oversized posters of John Wayne and James Dean watch from the back wall, melded with the building, hanging on by strips.
The soul of the shop is Stephanie Ogle. She opens the door every morning and turns the lights off every night. She founded the shop with her brother and sister-in-law in 1977 and has been the sole proprietor since 1979.
“We knew from the start that we had to make ourselves different and not just another general bookstore,” says Ogle. “We liked movies and film books, so it made sense to focus on that.”
The original, Capitol Hill store was across from the Harvard Exit Theatre before moving to its current, University District location in 1984. The 1,000 square-foot book haven is tucked underneath the Seven Gables Theater. A passionate film fan, Ogle still attends at least a few screenings weekly. From the start, Ogle’s vision was to be in proximity to a theatre and immersed in the culture.
“This area is a film niche,” says Ogle. “Seattle is unique to have a film bookstore, theatre and Scarecrow Video, the biggest DVD/video store, all located in the same neighborhood. It’s an amazing, amazing corner.”
For nearly 20 years, Ogle has watched the years and cars pass from behind the store windows facing Roosevelt Way. Her attachment to the community dates to her days as an undergraduate and, eventually, doctoral student at the University of Washington. She participated in college film clubs and attended shows at the nearby Grand Illusion Cinema and Seven Gables. She never envisioned she would one day become an integral part of the community herself.
“I’d go to whatever movie was playing,” says Ogle. “As a child, I liked Pinocchio and all the movies that bring you into another world. You remember them so vividly and how they captured your imagination. That sense is always there with you.”
She’s also always been an avid reader. Whereas movies illustrate the story for you, books allow individuals to become their own filmmakers.
“Reading is so intimate because you yourself are part of creating the story, filling your own brain full of what the writer’s words look like,” says Ogle.
As a teenager, her literary and cinematic passions gradually merged, and she began riding the bus to the downtown Seattle Public Library in search of French film magazines, criticism, reviews—any background material about cinema she could find.
Cinema Books is the result of Ogle’s lifelong love of reading, movie watching and studying. There are movie posters, photographs, calendars and magnets, but the book collection is front and center. The collection is a mix of new and used and represents hundreds of publishers—major labels in addition to small, cult and niche presses. There are trivia guides and biographies, and technical tomes that filmmakers flock to for advice.
There are even one-of-a-kind gems. Buried in the back room are hand-bound booklets illustrated with original movie photographs glued inside. They were written in the 1980s by a New York film aficionado and discuss films like Gone With the Wind. They’re also beautifully symbolic of Ogle’s person-to-person business model.
“That’s the great thing about working in a specifically-focused bookstore. You meet people with passion,” says Ogle. “Whether it’s for Godzilla or film editing, they come in and feel comfortable telling me about that joy because they know I’ll understand.”
Customers range from university film students to local industry professionals and fans worldwide. Film luminaries such as director Jean-Luc Godard and actor Colin Firth have dropped by to visit and shop. The wall behind the front counter is plastered with over 30 years of autographed photos of film stars. Most are gifts from customers; some are even second-generation patrons.
“I do hope the store continues, but I have to be realistic in some ways because times have changed,” says Ogle. “Still, I certainly enjoy every day. Today I enjoyed passing the time with two ladies who wanted to talk about The Wizard of Oz.”
Whether they’re major movie stars or young children learning about Clark Gable for the first time, Ogle treats them with the same maternal enthusiasm, greeting them warmly and welcoming them into her world.
Stephanie Ogle, photo courtesy of Cinema Books. Visit Cinema Books at 4753 Roosevelt Way NE, or cinemabooks.net