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Ada's Technical Books welcomes curious readers to its Capitol Hill location

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

There's no better thaw to the Seattle Freeze than walking into Ada's Technical Books, located on Capitol Hill. The store is instantly warm and inviting, thanks to the atmosphere curated by the friendly booksellers and baristas.

"Everyone is very casual and very accepting of people... If you're just here to hang out, you're good for us," said retail manager and book buyer extraordinaire Joan Sepulveda.

Sepulveda has been working as Ada's book curator for the last ten years. Over that decade, she has seen the store grow up in front of her very eyes.

"We started as a computer science bookstore. We stocked primarily technical manuals and science books, as well as books on programming and programming languages, and that was very successful, especially in the late 2000s, during the tech boom," Sepulveda explained.

While technical books are what first put Ada's on the map, the store eventually grew into a community gathering spot for all kinds of readers. "When we moved to this location, we quickly realized that we were going to be a lot more of a neighborhood bookstore," Sepulveda said. "We shifted our focus a little bit away from the computer manuals and programming guides, which we still have, [and] started putting our science books and books about nature and physics and math more towards the forefront, as opposed to being just computer programing and computer science."

Now the store is known for stocking nonfiction books featuring a wide variety of topics. "Ninety percent of our stock is nonfiction. We [also] carry a lot of biography and history, both about science and the social justice movement and people involved in that," Sepulveda said. "What makes us unique is our focus on nonfiction... as opposed to just kind of entertaining."

Despite mostly carrying true tales, Ada's still has titles for fiction lovers, too. "We do have entertaining books," Sepulveda added. "You know, like beach reads and all of that, but all of those are still couched in the idea of imagining the world as better and coming from an own voice. These are stories that aren't normally told."

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Calling all Queers
Ada's has a very Queer vibe, despite not having started as an LGBTQ+ store. "I mean, it's been there since day one," Sepulveda said. "We didn't set out to be a Queer bookstore. Our owner is not Queer, but her brother is, and she grew up in that community as a very supportive ally. And wanting to be a hub of Capitol Hill, and Seattle in general, I mean, the LGBTQ community is so important here, and it's something we naturally gravitated towards."

The store also prioritizes books that reinforce messages about social justice. "Social justice is very important to us; Black Lives Matter is very important to us, [as is] being a safe place where you can find good books. That hasn't been a problem on Capitol Hill. I mean, Elliott Bay has been here forever, and that is the bookstore of Capitol Hill, but we're trying to carve out our little niche among the community, and I think we're doing that," Sepulveda said.

One special aspect of Ada's is that LGBTQ+ books, social justice-themed books, and critical race texts are in just about any area of the store. "We don't have a specific section for [LGBTQ+ books], because it's just all mixed in with all our books," Sepulveda explained. "We're a very Queer store. I would say 75% of our staff is Queer. I'm a Trans woman, and that's been a part of Ada's culture since the beginning: just being a very accepting and welcoming place for the Queer community."

As the primary curator at Ada's, Sepulveda prides herself on making sure books by lesser-known authors hit the front of the shelves, which often means showcasing LGBTQ+ titles, much to the benefit of the community. "I would say a good selection of our books are by Queer writers or feature Queer characters, just because that's what interests me and that's what I select," she continued. "That's just going into our fiction philosophy, which is that we want to focus on books that are great but haven't necessarily gotten the press that, you know, Stephen King or someone like him has. You know, authors and selections that you won't find in every bookstore."

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Ada's recommendations
Some of the most popular titles at Ada's have been LGBTQ+ texts. Sepulveda shared with us some of the store's recent best sellers. "The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes is a graphic novel about her life growing up. It's a tongue-in-cheek biography, with just a little bit of sadness, which you know the Queer community tends to have," she said.

"Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown has been a very popular book for the past year," she continued. "It's about how to stay involved in the social justice movement and not burn out, how to derive pleasure from fighting for progress and social agendas, which we all know is hard and grueling and needs as much love and attention as it can get, but being able to fight the fight and do things that naturally feel good to you that make the world a better place."

"And then a classic book that continues to sell well every summer is Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. It's another graphic novel memoir about em coming out and discovering who e is and trying to balance eir gender identity with who e want to be and who other people see em as. It's a very poignant memoir and always a best seller," she said.

A building with history
As Ada's celebrates Pride month, the store will feature LGBTQ+ books in its displays and dazzling rainbow lights to highlight the building's beautiful architecture. "The rainbow lights are for Pride month, but we tend to keep them on pretty often," Sepulveda admitted with a laugh. "They're very eye-catching, and everyone is very excited whenever they're on. Definitely, during Pride month they're always on."

The beautiful old-school Seattle building Ada's calls home has a unique history. "We tried very hard to fit into the neighborhood when we moved in," Sepulveda said. "This was a used bookstore called Horizon Books before we got it, and the refurbishment was very much in keeping with that old-house aesthetic and fitting into the neighborhood. The neighborhood association gave us an award just for doing that, for fitting in with the neighborhood aesthetic.

"It's beautiful, it's a great open space to sit and hang out," she added.

Ada's prides itself on being a part of Capitol Hill's diverse community. Every month the store gives back to nonprofits in the area. "We don't accept tips at Ada's. Everybody here is just paid a living wage, but we do have a donation jar for people to throw a dollar or their change into, and that donation rotates every month or so to a different nonprofit on Capitol Hill," Sepulveda said. The store most often donates to organizations that help underrepresented people and communities involved in tech.

Since opening its doors in Capitol Hill, Ada's has expanded again. "During the pandemic, we purchased Fuel Coffee, and we have remodeled all of the Fuel Coffee locations, and they are now also mini-bookstores. So, we now have a bunch of mini-curations of books, and when I say mini, I mean like 2,000 titles as opposed to the like 10,000 we have here. But still, it's a good chunk of books," Sepulveda said.

She has been in charge of curating all the books at the mini-stores as well. "Those are more general. They're less about science and nonfiction but still emphasize curiosity and untold stories to put out into the world. All of our Fuel locations are also wonderful bookstores, and if you can't make your way up to Ada's, do check out the local Fuel. They are wonderful," she said.

A dream job
For Sepulveda, there is much to love about Ada's, and working at the store has been her dream come true. Her favorite part is all the people she gets to encounter.

"It's probably a silly answer, but I just love all my coworkers. I love the people that come here. It's just very curious and very engaging in the world, and the community always wants to know more and do more. People just like being here. There's always a wonderful community and something to walk into."

Aside from the people she gets to encounter, Sepulveda loves her job as a bookkeeper. "I love curating books," she said. "It is one of my passions. It is probably what I always wanted to do with my life, and being able to do that here has probably been my dream come true. I love being able to help people find the stories that are going to expand their horizons."

Working with books has always been Sepulveda's dream. "I always wanted to work with books. My mom was a librarian, so I grew up in libraries and surrounded by books. [After] college, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I asked around, and then when Ada's first opened in 2009, they quickly expanded and needed another person to help share the load, and I was the first hire," she recalled with a smile.

Working at Ada's has given Sepulveda the space to grow and feel like a part of a community, and she takes pride in the leadership position she holds at the store. "I came out as Transgender very recently. I've been a part of the LGBTQ+ community my entire life, but feeling like a member of it recently has been very interesting and changes how I view a lot of these things.

"Being able to be a Transgender person in a position of leadership, and a position of management, and a position of responsibility within our community, even if it's something as silly as stocking books that people are going to find, I find that very rewarding and very important," she added.

Thanks to Sepulveda's hard work curating unique titles, Ada's is the perfect stop for all the curious at heart looking to learn a little more about the world, engage with a wonderful community, and enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.