This Seattle couple is building an amazing community around a technical bookstore

Danielle Hulton (left) and David Hulton (right) standing in front of pastries in the cafe at Ada's Technical Books.

Danielle and David Hulton

Opening a bookstore dedicated to selling books to a technical audience would seem like a fool’s errand. After all, print is dying, e-books are the future and independent bookstores are getting squeezed out of the market by Amazon.

Don’t tell that to Danielle and David Hulton, though.

They are the co-owners of Ada’s Technical Books, a shop in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood that specializes in offering geeky books, gizmos and community.  Named after programming pioneer Ada Lovelace, the store has developed a thriving community of fans and found success.

Ada’s began after Danielle decided to leave her engineering job at Seattle-based Pico Computing, and she sat down with David to brainstorm what she could do next. The idea of opening a technical bookstore came up, and they pounced. The two of them knew a number of people who were driving down to Portland on a regular basis to visit Powell’s Technical Books, and they thought they could create something similar in Seattle.

Danielle said she was looking for ways to help bolster the tech community, and learn new things along the way.

adastechnicalThey opened Ada’s in Capitol Hill in 2010. Last November, they moved the store into a house on 15th Avenue that had been left abandoned for a few years after the closure of Horizon Books, its previous tenant. While the house was in rough shape when they purchased it, Danielle and David worked with architecture firm Board & Vellum to create a space that was appealing and purpose-built for what they wanted to do.

Ada’s is more than a typical bookstore. While they sell a wide variety of books, including technical manuals and science fiction, the store is designed to serve as a gathering space for the tech community, as well as somewhere people can get inspired about their next project or idea.

“Part of being a technical bookstore in our definition of it, is that we try things that are related to technology,” she said. “We’ve sold e-books for a really long time, and we’ve sold e-book readers for as long as we could.”

The new space brings a whole host of opportunities for the store, including the ability to open a café and event space. In addition, the upstairs floor of the house will be turned into The Office, a co-working space that they plan to open this summer. All of those opportunities are designed to foster a strong sense of community around Ada’s, something that is core to what Danielle and David see as a key to their success.

As a part of serving the community, the couple also decided recently to utilize Bitcoin as a payment method. Ada’s uses Bitpay to process their transactions in the cryptocurrency, and then convert the digital money into cash, much like what Overstock.com does with its Bitcoin sales. While David said that he has been mining bitcoins for the past couple years, holding onto bitcoins is not the right call for Ada’s at the moment. Between unclear government regulation, price fluctuations, and the fact that the store has only processed a handful of transactions in Bitcoin, converting bits into cash makes the most sense.

“Just continuing to participate in the community, that’s a huge part of our business model in general,” says Danielle.

When it comes to the future of the bookstore, both owners are optimistic about what’s to come for Ada’s. They have some plans they’re considering but won’t yet disclose. And Danielle and David say that they fully expect the community of people who come to Ada’s to continue to support the shop even if books become obsolete. (Though to be clear, neither of them see that happening any time soon.)

David offers this insight on the keys to Ada’s success. “(It’s a) place where people can learn, and keep up to date on things that are coming out, and also foster their creativity and be able to meet other people that are also interested in learning the geeky things that they’re interested in as well.”

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    I haven’t been here but I have friends who swear by this place. It’s so hard for independent bookstore, especially ones this focused that it’s great to see someone doing well.

    I still mourn the loss of Stacey’s on Market Street in San Francisco. I spent many hours there back in the day.

    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Stacey-s-Bookstore-closing-down-in-S-F-3177640.php

    • white

      nerd

  • Robert Rosen

    Hope it’s more successful than the Ada programming language was.