At the end of May, Ada’s Technical Books co-founder Danielle Hulton made a remarkable announcement: Ada’s would be taking over operations of local minichain Fuel Coffee. By any metric, buying three neighborhood coffee shops in the middle of a global pandemic and economic collapse is a bold move. Even more surprising, though, was Hulton’s announcement that the three Fuel locations will also become small indie bookstores, with each eventually carrying roughly 1,000 nonfiction, fiction and children’s titles.
Fuel Coffee seems like a wise investment no matter what the business climate. Owner/founder Dani Cone expanded Fuel from one location in 2005 to three beloved neighborhood hangout spots in Wallingford, Montlake and Capitol Hill. (Cone is keeping 10% of her stake in Fuel.) But conventional wisdom would argue that opening three small neighborhood independent bookshops in Seattle in the year 2020 is, to put it gently, a little bit of a risk.
Luckily, Hulton has never paid much attention to conventional wisdom.
When she and her husband David founded Ada’s 10 years ago, she had no bookstore experience, but coming in fresh proved to be a strength. While many new bookstores flounder around for a few years before honing their stock and discovering their audience, Ada’s almost immediately found its own rhythm as a scientifically focused bookshop, cafe and STEM community hub. Three years after it opened, the store expanded from a tiny annex at the end of Broadway to a lushly renovated house on 15th Avenue East, where it has thrived ever since.
“Ada’s is what I want to exist in the world, and I’ve gotten lucky that other people want it too,” Hulton explained on the phone in a recent interview with The Seattle Times.
With Ada’s firmly established, Hulton had been looking to expand into new businesses. When Cone asked if Hulton and her husband would be interested in buying Fuel back in January, they were enthusiastic about the opportunity. One statewide lockdown and two massive quarterly plunges in GDP later, Hulton found herself in charge of four independent bookstore/coffee shops and a staff of 20 bookseller/baristas…