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Time for a new chapter: Village Books owners sell indie bookstore they opened in 1980

Chuck and Dee Robinson, owners of Village Books, have sold their stores in Fairhaven and Lynden.
Chuck and Dee Robinson, owners of Village Books, have sold their stores in Fairhaven and Lynden. pdwyer@bellinghamherald.com

Chuck and Dee Robinson have sold Village Books, the iconic and beloved independent bookstore they opened a little more than 36 years ago.

The new owners are longtime employees Kelly Evert, Paul Hanson and Sarah Hutton.

The trio bought the Fairhaven and Lynden locations along with gift store Paper Dreams.

They will take over Jan. 1.

“We’re thrilled and humbled,” Evert said in a news release. “This business has become an institution in this community and we’re so excited to be given the opportunity to carry on the legacy Dee and Chuck are leaving.”

Terms of the sale weren’t disclosed.

The Robinsons, both 69, said the time was right to sell their business.

They’re in good health and ready to do other things, they said, including travel more and settling into their new community of Lynden, which they moved to in summer 2016 from Fairhaven. And, yes, they also will use the time to read the books they’ve stockpiled over the years.

Since opening Village Books in 1980, the owners have weathered some tough times – such as the threat posed to independent bookstores by big box retailers and online giant Amazon – and built a thriving community for writers and book-lovers, young and old, along the way.

The best people to sell the business to, they said, were the ones who have been handling most of the day-to-day operations over the past few years.

They already had been talking to the trio for nearly two years about buying the business, but a six-week trip to Australia and New Zealand this spring gave the Robinsons more time to discuss what they wanted next for their lives.

When they returned, they decided to move up the sale to the end of this year.

“Our confidence in them is so strong,” Chuck Robinson said in an interview, adding the new owners shared the values the business was built on and will continue its community-oriented focus.

The Robinsons opened the original Village Books in June 1980 in Fairhaven, and the adjacent Paper Dreams two years later. They opened their Lynden location Nov. 22, 2015.

When they started in 1980, interest rates were higher than 20 percent and Fairhaven was a “rather sorry looking place” with empty storefronts and vacant lots, Bellingham historian Brian Griffin said in his book, “Fairhaven: A History.”

Griffin described Village Books, and Colophon Cafe next door, as game-changing anchor businesses for what was then a down-in-the-dumps district.

The Robinsons have weathered some tough times – such as the threat posed to independent bookstores by big box retailers and online giant Amazon – and built a thriving community for writers and book lovers, young and old, along the way. That included The Chuckanut Radio Hour, a radio variety show they launched in January 2007 with a featured author as a guest. Writers who have been on the show include Sherman Alexie, Tom Robbins, Cheryl Strayed and Ruth Ozeki.

“That’s been so much fun,” Robinson said of the variety show whose creation “was a bit of a lark.”

The Robinsons will continue to stay involved with The Chuckanut Radio Hour.

Dee Robinson retired from everyday involvement in the stores two years ago, although she continued to be part of all strategic decisions. Chuck Robinson, who has worked more from his home office and in the larger community in the past few years, will continue to consult with the new owners over the next several years and direct special projects.

He also plans to provide consulting services for bookstores and other retail businesses around the country.

“I’m not on Jan. 1 going to be sitting in a rocking chair,” he said.

Evert and Hanson have each worked in the business for 5 1/2 years, and Hutton for 11 years. They have years of experience as managers, booksellers and retailers.

There aren’t plans to change things such as the popular Reader Rewards program, the Chuckanut Reader or the events hosted by the business.

These days, Fairhaven is a vibrant place to shop, eat and otherwise hang out.

The store there continues to grow, while the Lynden store is exceeding expectations.

These days, independent bookstores are faring better. For the Robinsons, it’s time for the next chapter.

“There has been a net gain of independent bookstores in each of the last seven years,” Chuck Robinson said, adding that many mature stores like theirs have added second or third locations.

“Our business is doing well in Fairhaven and we’re thrilled with the success of the Lynden store. And, most important, we have the right team in place to carry this business forward.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Say goodbye and hello

What: A combined reception for the new owners of Village Books and a farewell to founders Chuck and Dee Robinson.

When: Saturday, Feb. 4, for the Fairhaven store at 1200 11th St. and Sunday, Feb. 5, in Lynden at 430 Front St. Times are still being determined.

Also: In February, the new owners, who are employees Kelly Evert, Paul Hanson and Sarah Hutton, will hold a series of meet-and-greets over coffee and pastries in Book Fare Cafe on the top floor of Village Books. Dates and times will be announced on the Village Books website and in email newsletters.

Details: villagebooks.com; 360-671-2626; and 360-526-2133.

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