When Kari Ferguson decided to open a Seattle bookstore, she did so with some hesitation. After all, the pandemic has not been particularly kind to small businesses.
Nevertheless, she opened Oh Hello Again in December and is helping people in Seattle rethink how they shop for books.
Although Ferguson has a great love of children’s books (she has a postgraduate certificate in children’s literature and founded the now closed Dickens Children’s Books & Publishing Lab in Vancouver, Wash.), the cozy space she opened on Capitol Hill caters to all ages. It operates on the idea of people engaging in bibliotherapy, using reading (and fiction, in particular) to understand themselves better, to process and work through different issues or concerns that they are experiencing, in part by putting themselves in the place of the characters.
“It’s important, too, for kids who are just learning how to deal with their emotions and figure out life,” Ferguson says. To support this practice, she arranges books by subject matter, which means you’ll find plenty of children’s and young adult books next to reading material catering more to adults.
If the books share the same category, they share a shelf. This also helps customers, whether they have children or not, come across books they might not otherwise have been exposed to in a different place – and certainly not online. “It’s really a store to browse in, which I think bookstores need to be now to find things you weren’t [necessarily] looking for. It’s about the experience,” says Ferguson.
When you wander over to the section “For Expressing Feelings,” you might find Laura Esquivel’s “Like Water for Chocolate” and Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Middlesex” near picture books like Madalena Moniz’s “Today I Feel …” and Toni Yuly’s “Ollie Feels Fine.” If you’re exploring the topic “For Vacations and Wanderlust,” Margaret Wise Brown’s picture book classic “The Runaway Bunny” and Jeanne Birdsall’s kids’ novel “The Penderwicks” are right near Jean Rhys’ classic response to Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” “Wide Sargasso Sea.” And in the section for “Antiracism/Anti-Xenophobia,” Mildred D. Taylor’s classic Newbery Medal-winning young adult novel “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” is shelved with Peniel E. Joseph’s “The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.,” Ibram X. Kendi’s board book “Antiracist Baby” and Innosanto Nagara’s best-selling children’s book “A is for Activist.”
Though her husband helps behind the scenes with operating the website, Ferguson’s Seattle bookstore is essentially a one-woman show: She built and painted the space herself, orders all the books and is the sole employee. She conducts a lot of research before ordering and categorizing – reading blogs, review sites and more. The store is ever-evolving, as more books come in and categories sometimes shift based on customer interest and feedback. Oh Hello Again also carries other products like calendars, candles and tote bags. A bonus: it welcomes dogs.
When asked about the bookstore’s name, Ferguson says, “I came up with the name based on the online store I started … I picked Oh Hello Again because when you see these classic or familiar books, it feels like you are meeting an old friend who you haven’t seen in a long time. It works for the new shop too, because we carry a lot of familiar titles, but with the lens of bibliotherapy, you are seeing them in a new light.”
Once the pandemic is under control, Oh Hello Again would like to do author readings and book signings, and perhaps children’s story time and a book club for patrons. In the meantime, customers can join a subscription service in which they receive two to four handpicked books per month based on a theme and preferred age range. This has also allowed people who live out of state, or who otherwise can’t visit the Seattle bookstore in person, to be a part of the magic.
Considering all we’re facing in the world, bibliotherapy is arguably needed now more than ever.
Oh Hello Again, 324 15th Ave. E. #101; ohhelloagain.com
This story was originally published on March 2, 2021.