Chehalis Bookstore, Coffee Shop Fills Location of Former Brothel


The sign is sealed with a kiss, the cafe is named after a famous Paris bookstore and the business is located in a former house for ladies of the night. 

The Shakespeare and Company: Coffee and Used Books is located in Chehalis at 120 NW Pacific Ave. It opened in the summer of 2017.  

Owners Karen McSwain and Maureen (Mo) Anderson, who also owned and operated The Pearl Cafe in downtown Chehalis, were out driving around when they turned a corner and saw the historic white house on the corner of Pacific Avenue was for lease. The duo decided to go for it.

“We love coffee for one,” McSwain said. 

After the first day of operation, McSwain said she and Anderson decided to focus on Shakespeare and Company and close The Pearl. McSwain said it was the next logical step as business owners. The amount of work required at The Pearl was getting harder to do, she said. 

“I’m feeling less stressed,” McSwain said. “This environment as an owner operator is good for my soul.” 

McSwain and Anderson opened The Pearl with the goal of running it for three years, and they were just shy of that mark.

“It was successful beyond all expectations,” McSwain said. “I want to leave it when it is running high.” 

As an avid reader and writer, McSwain has always wanted to have a used bookstore. She decided to name it after the legendary bookstore in Paris, Shakespeare and Company. Founded in 1919 by American Sylvia Beach, the store and lending library attracted some of the biggest names from the lost generation such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and T.S. Eliot.   

All served in World War I and lived in Paris during the 1920s. Their generation became known as the lost generation because of the toll the war inflicted on them. 

Beach is also one of McSwain’s personal heros. 

The history of the name joins the history of the building in Chehalis, which was built in 1904 for Judge Seymour White. The building was purchased by Ella Simmons, who operated a brothel during the first part of the 20th century. Simmons moved out in the early 1970s and the house fell into disrepair.

Before it could be demolished, contractor Frank Mason restored the house, and Simmons lived there from 1989 until she required nursing home care in 1996. 

McSwain said she always had red lipstick, so to honor her and the building’s history, the sign outside the business has a big set of red lips. 

As for the cafe and bookstore itself, McSwain hopes it will become a place where members of the community come to talk to one another and meet new people. 

“It is quaint and cozy,” Anderson said.“We want people to slow down and relax for a bit.” 

There is ample seating on chairs and couches as well as at tables. People can peruse the shelves while they sip their coffee. 

The furniture is vintage, and the pair made sure most of what they have is made in the United States, Anderson said. 

The books come from yard sales, thrift stores and estate sales, McSwain said. The titles range from fiction and nonfiction to self help and religion. They are all in good quality.

People can come in, find a book, sit down and read it if they want without buying it, she added. 

“It’s the kind of bookstore where the book finds you,” McSwain said.    

The cafe will serve the typical coffee shop items, espressos, lattes and a variety of scones and pastries. The coffee will come from Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. because McSwain likes the coffee and the practices of the company when acquiring the beans. 

Not only is the coffee free trade, she said, but they also pay their workers a living wage. 

The staff has to go through six hours of training held by the Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. before they can serve their coffee, McSwain said. 

When the doors opened, McSwain and Anderson were ready to greet their new customers and regulars from The Pearl. 

“We are just hoping it takes off,” Anderson said in June 2017.