Bellingham’s “Mad Hatter” sells books, not hats, but, fittingly, the top hats he is known for wearing remind astute observers of the 19th century literary legend Charles Dickens.
That’s no accident. Dave Jackson is fond of classic authors and sells a lot of their books, many by Dickens.
“A lot of people call me the Mad Hatter,” says Jackson, the owner of Mount Baker Books in Bellingham Public Market, downtown on Cornwall Avenue. “Everybody knows me by the hat.”
Six years ago, the lifelong bibliophile took a leap of faith and began a small bookselling operation in Bellingham even though the city has several long-established used-book stores, along with Village Books, which has used books sprinkled among its multitude of new volumes.
Why such a leap?
“Bellingham is a great book lover’s town, and I love books,” says Jackson, who originally began dealing used books on tables in the Public Market parking lot. “I’ve always wanted a bookstore and I just love to sell books. My brother-in-law was selling books online, and I was helping him find books. About two and a half years ago, we set up inside.
“And you can’t beat the location, with the coffee shop and all those tables right next to me. I’m not a hard-sell; I encourage customers to have coffee and begin reading a book if they want to, before they buy it.
“I like creating ‘regulars,’” Jackson says. “You create a regular; it just doesn’t happen.”
His customers now have more to choose from than books on a few tables in the parking lot. He now has three large walls of shelves and several tables inside, totaling 4,000 to 5,000 volumes, including many on several of his favorite topics — literature, spirituality and Northwest history.
He especially loves classic science fiction, the type that made the likes of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury so popular in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
Jackson is a familiar figure at the Bellingham Public Library sales, plucking a variety of volumes he knows will appeal to customers, including a growing interest in historical fiction. He also selectively buys books during business hours at his store, offering cash or trade credit.
“I really believe books are here to stay,” he says.
Jackson came to Bellingham about 25 years ago after growing up in Olympia. He first found himself enjoying wheeling and dealing books, among other items, at an Olympia-area flea market when he was a teenager.
He also works at the Bellingham IHOP restaurant, where he credits his supervisors for being flexible to accommodate his two-job schedule.
“I was shy as a young man, but I’m not shy now,” Jackson says. “Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ has been the best thing in helping me learn sales.”