A truck driver drove through Capitol Hill Books on Colfax, damaging the store’s most expensive books
“I’ve been absolutely determined — COVID, pandemic, truck, no matter what — the store is gonna stay open.”
Capitol Hill Books owner Holly Brooks woke up on her birthday Thursday morning to the news that a truck driver had driven through her store the night before.
“It was kind of discouraging, but it’s still not as bad as COVID,” she said. “What’s one truck through your wall?”
The crash had happened around 8:30 on the night of Nov. 17. Employee William Kortz received a text from a resident of the Newhouse Hotel next door alerting him to the crash, and he rushed to the scene.
When he got to the store, a red pickup with a bed full of Lime Electric Scooters was still lodged in the Grant side wall, its engine steaming. There was glass everywhere from the three shattered windows, as well as debris from the store’s crumbled brick walls. The truck had stopped at the building’s old radiator, which was also steaming.
“It was a real shock when I arrived,” Kortz said. “It was sort of like finding your kid under a truck. Because that’s how I feel about this place. It’s like a person.”
Kortz has been working at Capitol Hill Books for about a year and a half. He says he feels unlucky. He’s worked there during COVID, when the shop was struggling to stay open, and during the demonstrations, when clashes between protestors and police led them to board the shop’s windows. Now, this.
Police and firefighters responded to the scene and boarded the broken windows. Kortz said the driver seemed unharmed, though they have yet to hear further updates from the police.
Brooks slept through it all. She said she goes to bed early, and didn’t hear her phone ringing, or Kortz pounding on her door to tell her the news. She said she didn’t get down to the store until about noon the following morning. She and three other employees immediately got to work, getting the shop ready to reopen. And that evening, Brooks’ employees took her out for margaritas to celebrate her birthday.
“I got a special birthday dinner!” she said.
The truck happened to hit the side of the shop holding its most expensive rare books: first editions and signed copies, all held in expensive glass-front bookcases, which Brooks says were completely destroyed.
They’re not yet sure how many books they’ll be able to salvage. The staff still has to assess the damage. While many of the books may be salvageable, dozens were destroyed or damaged. Brooks says most of the damage was caused by the steam from the broken radiator
“Books and steam don’t go too well together,” she said.
Brooks said the landlord’s insurance will cover the damage to the building’s exterior, but that her insurance, which covers the shop’s contents, has about a $500 deductible, and won’t cover much.
“It’s probably not worth filing, even,” she said. “But I think we’re maybe gonna try a GoFundMe page in order to try and cover some of our expenses”
The used and rare bookstore on Grant and Colfax has been around more than 40 years, and has always been woman-owned. Brooks is the third owner.
“She works here and owns it and pours her heart and soul into it, and doesn’t even take income,” Kortz said.
“Well. He gives me tips,” Brooks joked.
She said running the shop has to be a labor of love.
“You think you can make money in a used bookstore? You’d be ruined!” she said. “But this was my whole social life. They closed us down for two months at the start of the whole thing (COVID). And I realized, oh, it sure is lonely. I mean, how awful. We’re a close-knit team here.”
It had been a challenging couple of years for Capitol Hill Books. Thanks to community support and donations, it’s managed to make it through the worst of the pandemic, even as other small businesses on Colfax have shut down for good.
“We had so many donations of books during COVID. It was so heartwarming. People really wanted to see us come back,” Brooks said. “The community has been wonderful. So many people have said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here. I’m so glad you survived.'”
The team had put up caution tape around the entrance while it worked to clean out the rubble. Even so, a number of patrons looked in on Friday morning and asked if they were open.
The team hopes to reopen the shop on Nov. 20.
‘We’ll get there,” Brooks said. “I’ve been absolutely determined — COVID, pandemic, truck, no matter what — the store is gonna stay open.”
Now, they’re assessing the damage, reorganizing the shop and working to temporarily block off the damaged section until they can permanently repair it. Brooks said maintenance staff from the hotel next door are helping to clear the rubble and make the shop presentable to guests.
“I can’t tell you how many times they were out front sweeping the glass of the sidewalk to save the dogs, if people walk their dogs past,” she said. “They say, ‘We gotta save the dogs! We gotta save the dogs!”
Brooks said they don’t plan to replace the damaged windows, but will instead build a wall there, and maybe commission a mural for the exterior.
“We’re just proud to be resilient,” Brooks said. “We’ll bounce back.”