4326 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
I have deep affection for many material things in the world, and two categories of things that I love the most are books and office supplies. Therefore, it is not surprising that I have spent many hours of my life at the University Book Store. I can’t pay a better tribute to the worlds, characters, experiences, and truths that books open up to us than those already paid by writers far more eloquent than I am.
Therefore, let me move to a tribute to office supplies: those lovely gel, rolling ball, and ballpoint pens—how beautifully they slip along the sweet slightly absorbent pages of those many-colored, lined and unlined pads and notebooks; those hundreds of calendar choices—large or small, weekly or daily, leather or paper covered; the riotous bouquets of markers and pencils; the richly patterned or deeply-hued papers; the glorious tapestry of paper clips and post-it notes—oh, be still my heart!! The University Book Store’s office supplies (which flow almost organically into the art supplies) are a caravan of exotics plonked in the desert of the smartphones, keyboards, and online scheduling that often dominates our days. Sometimes you just need to get away from that, to step into a bright bazaar, a place where you can see the jewel-colored silks shimmering in the sunlight, run your hand over the thick pile of the muted carpets, and hear the murmuring of camels, riders, and spice-seekers talking among themselves. That’s what the University Book Store’s office supply area offers.
Lucky for those of us in wheelchairs who love books, need textbooks, and crave office and art supplies, once you get inside it, the University Book Store is quite accessible. However, getting inside can be a bit of a problem—but, to be sure, not a big enough problem to keep you out.
Parking: Parking presents the biggest access problem for the University Book Store, even though there are handicapped spaces at both the front and the back of the store. At the front of the store on “the Ave” (University Way NE), two generous disabled parking spaces are available directly in front of a bookstore entry with gigantic automatic doors. But the convenient curbside parking at the front of the store does not include close-by ramps onto the sidewalk. That means that if you are looking for a ramp to get over the curb, you’ll need to cruise down the street a short distance, facing oncoming traffic. This may sound easy, but usually the trip involves dodging or waiting for heavy traffic in your lane to pass, traffic that includes buses, bicyclists, cars, and other modes of transport. Once up the ramp and onto the sidewalk, it’s a slightly uphill but easy trip to the big automatic doors.
The parking lot behind the bookstore also has spaces close to the building for disabled shoppers. However, if you park there and enter through the back door, you will end up on a landing between one set of stairs going down to the basement floor and another set–eight stairs–leading down into the main floor bookstore area. In other words, if you can’t do stairs, you can’t enter the bookstore through the back door.
I don’t know what the University Book Store can do about these issues. The store improved entry dramatically in recent years with the reserved disabled parking spots and installation of the automatic doors in front. Furthermore, problems with the back entry are just part of a building that was built long before people were aware of ADA issues and needs.
In any case, my advice is park in front and be very careful of oncoming traffic when you make the sprint to the ramp and onto the sidewalk. If you have to wait until the traffic lights are working for you, then wait. Your time inside the store will be worth it.
Entrances: The main entrance at the front of the building is wonderfully accessible—big sliding doors that open as you approach them. The entrance at the back is not accessible for wheelchairs but might be managed for people using canes or crutches if eight steps are not a problem.
Aisles: The aisles in the bookstore are wide and easy to navigate except for a few areas. Space is very tight in the young adult and fantasy/sci fi area on the second floor. However, the people who work in that area are amazingly accommodating, willing not only to recommend wonderful books but to bring them to you so you can check them out. The t-shirts/hoodies/sweatpants area is also a little close but still manageable. An elevator off the main-floor area takes you up to the second floor (mysteries! fiction! poetry! free wrapping!) or down to the basement (office supplies! art supplies! textbooks!). Access to textbooks for UW classes is ramped. On the main floor, a short ramp connects books with gifts and a lovely café.
Restrooms: The restrooms are located down a short corridor next to the elevator on the second floor. The women’s room entry does not have an automatic door, and it has a high lip. Once you have entered the restroom, you will need to turn right immediately, move forward a few feet in the narrow corridor, and turn left into the restroom. On your left will be two sinks, and next to them a row of bathroom stalls. I make this trip with my cane, and I suspect it might be more challenging if I were rolling my wheelchair through the space. The handicapped stall is at the end, next to the wall. It is spacious with plenty of grab bars and maneuvering room. The seat is high and toilet paper is in easy reach.
Photos of interior space online: Google images has a few.
Photos of entrances online: No.
What the wheelchair pusher has to say: Parking in front of the store is problematic because you have to situate your car in a very particular way. It has to be far enough from the curb for the disabled passenger to get out, while providing enough room at the back of the car to set up the wheelchair. The car can’t be too far from the curb, however, or you will get a parking ticket for hanging out over the painted line. If the disabled passenger cannot step over the high curb to the sidewalk, then she has to find a way to get to the wheelchair–in our case at the back of the car. Once in the wheelchair, you have to brave the oncoming traffic on the narrow street to wheel down to a ramp access to the sidewalk, about 30 feet from the handicapped parking sites. Once on the sidewalk, you have to push back up the hill to the entry.
Once inside the store, maneuvering through the bookstore’s three floors is easy, although there are some aisles you can’t go down, such as the new releases and the science fiction areas. The aisles for fiction are narrow but doable–just don’t try turning around in them. Also, the hallway to the women’s bathroom is narrow, and if we are using that hallway, others needing to use them have to wait behind us.