Blueprints for the site of a rumored Amazon bookstore offer new clues about what might be the e-commerce giant’s first full-fledged retail location.
The documents, unearthed by GeekWire at the Seattle planning department, show what appear to be bookshelves around the edges of the store, with display tables and a sales area in the interior of the space at the upscale University Village shopping center.
There’s also evidence that it will be a very tech-centric bookstore, such as notes indicating the need to provide power for three different types of device charging cords.
This project — alternately described in permit filings as “Ann Bookstore” and “Project Anne — became a subject of intrigue last week when a report by the book industry newsletter Shelf Awareness identified the location as the possible site of Amazon’s first real retail store.
Amazon has been dipping its toes into physical retail with projects such as kiosks in shopping malls and package pickup locations on college campuses. But if the report is on the mark, the blueprints for the store make it clear that this would be the full plunge into bricks-and-mortar shopping.
At this point, Amazon’s involvement has not been confirmed. Maybe there is another secretive bookstore operator out there, with the financial means to open a new location in one of Seattle’s priciest shopping centers, and the guts to open a bookstore in the Amazon era.
However, if it is Amazon’s project, the blueprints suggest it will combine elements of an Apple store and a Barnes & Noble, with areas for browsing books and checking out and buying new devices.
(Click on the image below for a high-resolution PDF of the floor plan.)
This would make a lot of sense. A flagship retail store in Amazon’s hometown, possibly serving as a prototype for future locations, would give the company a new way to showcase the growing number of books from Amazon Publishing — which has, no surprise, struggled to get its books into the traditional bookstores whose business models Amazon has upended.
An Amazon store would also let the company show off its devices first-hand, such as its Kindle e-readers, Fire tablets, Echo intelligent speaker, and Fire TV streaming devices.
The real trick would be for Amazon to somehow turn this into a Prime Now distribution hub, as well. But at least from the blueprints we’ve found so far, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
The main store area, as shown in the blueprints, is 7,388 square feet, but there’s an additional 3,158-square-foot space just north of that, which also appears to be under renovation.
Even at a combined 10,500 square feet, the store would be a fraction of the size of the 46,000-square-foot Barnes & Noble store that anchored University Village before closing in 2011.
However, the store would still be three to four times the size of Amazon’s new package pick-up and drop-off facilities at college campuses, such as the one that opened in Purdue earlier this year, which was touted as Amazon’s first staffed campus location. A similar Amazon campus facility in Cincinnati will reportedly be just 2,363 square feet, and job listings indicate more are on the way.
But if this is Amazon’s project in Seattle, it would not appear to be simply an extension of the campus concept for the nearby University of Washington. The larger footprint is one indication.
In addition, despite the proximity to the UW, the site seems an unlikely location for a student-focused pickup location. University Village is a high-end, open-air shopping center that features an array of upscale shops, and there are clearly more practical spots near the UW campus if a company is simply trying to cater to students.
Amazon hasn’t responded to our requests to comment. If this is the company’s project, Jeff Bezos is clearly determined to keep it under wraps until the appropriate moment.
That moment could be soon: A recent filing with the city gave the go-ahead to issue a certificate of occupancy for the renovated space. This Google StreetView image, taken in June of this year, shows how far the renovation has come in just the past four months.
From what we’ve been able to glean from the planning documents, the store could be ready to open any day now. But you wouldn’t know it from walking by. The location — a former restaurant at the southwest corner of the popular shopping center — was buttoned up tight when we visited this weekend, with thick coverings stretching to the edges of the windows around the south and east sides of the building.
In fact, it seemed to be even more under wraps this weekend than it was last week, when GeekWire reporter Taylor Soper was there.
At the time, Taylor caught a glimpse of what was going on inside the building by peering through a small opening in the coverings. He saw people inside carrying books and boxes around. One man was holding something that looked to be some sort of electronic device like a tablet or e-reader. Numerous bookshelves were already installed in the space, and we spotted books, as well.
When we visited University Village this weekend, that gap was sealed, and the only opening in the coverings was in a second-story window. We used a long pole with a camera attached to peer down through that opening, but the interior view was blocked by even more thick sheets below.
That’s just one indication of the top-secret nature of the project. Workers at the shopping center, including the receptionist at the tanning salon next door and others at nearby shops, said they have been told nothing at all about their soon-to-be new neighbors.
The book news site Shelf Awareness, which kicked off all this speculation with its story last week, quoted an anonymous source saying that University Village management “has been unusually secretive about the new tenant.” The site reported, “A management office employee who was asked when the Amazon bookstore would open said only that she didn’t know the date.”
USA Today quoted Robert Sindelar of Seattle’s Third Place Books saying that several of his book sellers were contacted by Amazon about potential jobs, and “from what they could piece together, it sounded like Amazon was hiring for some sort of retail bookstore.”
University Village officials have not responded to our requests for comment. We tried following up this morning with the person handling the permitting process on behalf of the mystery tenant, but his voicemail box was full.
The plot thickens. Stay tuned for the next chapter.