Say "Oh, Hello Again" to Nook & Cranny Books

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

Seattle's newest indie bookstore opened its doors on Capitol Hill this past weekend to a warm welcome. Selling everything from books to totes to stickers, the unique store has already become a hidden gem in one of the city's most iconic districts.

Nook & Cranny Books, formerly known as Oh, Hello Again, celebrated its soft launch by bringing a bit more cheer, color, and sparkles to the neighborhood during Pride weekend with a drag queen story hour hosted by local icon Visage LaRue.

"It was so much fun!" gushed the store manager and sister to the owner, Elle Comendant. Comendant is excited to start working at the new bookstore and said that opening Nook & Cranny was a dream come true for her sister, Maren Comendant.

"She just bought [the store], and we did the big opening last week," Elle said with a smile. "The opening went well. It was a lot of fun and quite busy, which is always good for the first day."

Elle said her sister has always been a lifelong reader, and when the chance to buy Oh, Hello Again presented itself, she jumped at it.

"She had wandered in here while it was still Oh, Hello Again," Elle said. "She loves bookstores and never stays away from them... A lot of [the former owner] Carrie's curations in here were also things my sister loved. She found herself going through the shelves, like, 'I need to read this! I need to read this!' ...She loved the space.

"So, after talking more with Carrie, she found out [Carrie] was going to be leaving the country and needed a new owner to take over, so it just worked out."

"Finding this little shop felt serendipitous. In the midst of my rigorous planning for The Rascal Cook, and the discouragement that came when I realized it would take a cool million to build out a commercial kitchen from scratch, I read in the CHS newsletter that there was a bookshop for sale intact," Maren said.  

"It felt like a pipe dream at first, but the moment I walked in and saw it in person I knew it had to be mine. It was so inspiring to see the space and all the possibilities in spite of its size. Because I definitely plan to hold micro community events. I want to do a literary-themed dinner series and readings from local authors, possibly host a book club. A good friend of mine came to do Drag Queen Storytime for Pride weekend and I plan to make that a regular thing come fall...perhaps including an adult story hour as well." 

Maren's passions include book selling and culinary arts, and she hopes to combine the two one day. "I am a chef by trade — still catering even now to help supplement the new business venture — and my original business plan, cultivated in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, was to have a full-service book cafe with a prix fixe menu, beer and wine bar, and, of course, books. It would be called The Rascal Cook: Books & Brews and it would be a community space to celebrate storytelling in all forms.  While all of that may still happen for me one day, it is just the grown-up version of my very real childhood dream of having a bookshop — or a library with a ladder," she said.  

While dedicated readers and lovers of Oh, Hello Again were sad to see the bookstore close its doors, Maren was determined to bring the unique reading space back. She has spent several weeks curating some of the best titles and setting up the colorful shop. Although the store has only been open now for a week, Elle says it has already become a must-see for people in the neighborhood.

"I love working at the bookstore. It's a great spot," she said. "Happy vibes in here, and the neighborhood is really sweet! There's a lot of good people around."

Despite the store's Capitol Hill location, Maren and Elle do not live in the neighborhood, so meeting the residents has been a highlight.

Photos by Lindsey Anderson  

Unique genre curations
While there are several indie bookstores on Capitol Hill and North Seattle, where the sisters call home, Elle says Maren's special touch sets Nook & Cranny apart from the rest.

"I would say a big part of it is, you know, when people come in, giving them that space to explore and fall in love," Elle said. "When you go through the books, you notice that they're not organized traditionally. You know, we don't have a nonfiction section or a sci-fi section. It's a little more specific than that."

The organization style at Nook & Cranny is unique. Instead of lumping books together based on traditional genres, Maren has created new ones. Sections in the store include "cheaper than therapy," "banned books," "to feel like a kid again," "for the socially awkward," "when you have a short attention span," and a personal favorite, "for twentysomething men."

"The non-traditional organizational style is great. It was one of the things that attracted me the most about the previous shop because it is exactly how I shop for books," Maren said. "The previous proprietor was more focused on the therapeutic aspect of reading fiction, while I just like the fluidity of the system and how it offers a glimpse into our unique relationships with certain books. I want to come across Fight Club next to a picture book on bullying in a section called 'On Expressing Feelings.' The method has more soul. It certainly tells a story all on its own and that is what the shop is all about. Some folks may be frustrated by the apparent lack of organization. But if you're looking for a specific book, we do have ways of easily finding it. And maybe you'll be surprised by the thing you find on the shelf beside it!" 

Despite the nontraditional organization, each section is designed with deliberate intention. The shelves are a walk-through book-recommendation experience.

"It kind of creates an environment where it encourages more exploration and helps people find something they may not think to look for before and perhaps fall in love with a new genre," Elle said.

All kinds of books are found in these unique sections. "We even have kids' books scattered throughout the sections, because people often ignore those, but there are some real gems out there," she added.

The store already has the neighborhood talking, and Elle says it is all because of the unique new genres they've created.

"I would certainly say a big part of it would be the way she has chosen to organize the books in that nontraditional manner," Elle said. "It is a little more interpretive. ...The way [Maren] explained it to me was: if you need something then you look for that, and then there are books you don't expect to find there, for example... if you're just needing that escape from general life [or] you need something to just shock you at that moment. ...I haven't seen that in any other bookstores."

Photos by Lindsey Anderson  

LGBTQ+ representation
LGBTQ+ inclusion is a staple of the store, which is currently decked out in rainbow flags, balloons, and artwork to celebrate Pride. "We want this to be a safe space 100%, and welcoming for everybody," Elle said.

"The mission of Nook & Cranny remains the same: to celebrate the stories in our community. I love the concept of the Community Table where strangers come together to find connection and I think that can apply to my little space as well," Maren said. "I want people to come and feel like they're meeting friends, be that in the form of books or other humans."  

"I am a queer business owner, and it was an unplanned delight to be able to open my shop during Pride Week," she continued. "One thing that I really want to make part of the culture of curation in the shop is normalizing queer stories. I do have a section called 'Gender and Identity' and another on 'Allyship', but a lot of those books will be distributed throughout the store because I think it's important to encounter those stories even when we're not actively looking for them. I feel the same about stories involving race and racism and other 'hot button' topics. I do have a section for them, but you will definitely find them integrated throughout because the people these stories are about do not disappear just because you aren't looking for them. We're living our lives whether the rest of the world is woke or not."  

The Comendants have also scattered LGBTQ+ books across the store, hoping readers who may not look for those titles will stumble across them.

"Maren has put little Pride flags in front of different sections, indicating that there are [relevant] books in that section," Elle said, "but she wanted to space them out, because people might not think to look for those books, and she does want them to have more exposure."

So far, the store has made all sorts of sales, with no one genre or style of book more popular than another. "It has seemed pretty diverse," Elle said of the sales made so far. "I've noticed people pulling from all sorts of different sections. I think that's one of the fun things about this area, that there's just diversity as far as the... people coming in. There has been quite a range."

One trend Elle has noticed is the popularity of kids' books, for readers of all ages. "Honestly, my favorite right now is a kid's book, Julien Is a Mermaid. It is just a stunning book, with a beautiful message and artistry throughout.... There was another one called the Knight and the Prince, which is kind of a slightly nontraditional prince tale, where he falls in love with a knight."

The popularity of children's books is linked to the events the store has already held, like drag queen story hour, which encourages family and community engagement. Elle says Maren is planning more community events to follow the success of the past weekends'.

"There's more to come. I know there will be some more great events that Maren will be trying to make happen. She will be trying to incorporate some of her culinary skills as well."

For anyone looking to discover a surprising new book, or in need of a curated selection, stop by the city's newest bookstore, Nook & Cranny, in Capitol Hill.

Nook & Cranny is located at 324 15th Ave. E.